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Island Hell : 

A Soviet Prison in the Far North 

By S. A. MALSAGOFF Translated by F. H. LYON 






Part I. {Introductory). — FROM BATOUM TO 



I. A White Guard in the Caucasus . 13 

II. A Famous " Amnesty " . . 19 

III. Horrors of Tiflis Prison ... 27 

IV. Bound for the " Solovky " 33 



The Forerunners of the " Solovky " . 



From Monastery to Prison Camp 


A Gallery of Tchekists . 



Popoff Island Camp .... 



The Tyranny of the Criminals 


" Counter-Revolutionaries " 



Victims of the Tcheka : Some 

Strange Cases .... 102 
VIII. "Politicals": A Favoured Cla9s . 117 
IX. The Women's Fate . . . .132 
X. Foreign Prisoners . . . .139 


9 «- 


5 Contents 




A " Change of Cabinet "... 



Daily Life, Work, and Food . 



Hospital horrors .... 



How " Useful Citizens " are Made . 



How the Tchekists Live . 



I. The Only Way Out . 

II. Laying our Plans 

III. Our Flight: The First Stage 

IV. A Terrible March 

V. Freedom .... 





I and my four companions left the Solovetsky 
Islands (called in this narrative the " Solovky," the 
name by which they are commonly known) on 
May 1 8th, 1925, and crossed the frontier between 
Russia and Finland on June 1 5th. But it was not 
until eight days later that we reached Kuusamo 
and ascertained positively that we were in Finland, 
so that our journey lasted thirty-six days. 

As I had supposed, I found that outside Soviet 

Russia the whole circumstances in which those 

transported to the Solovetsky Islands are compelled 

to live (or, it would be more correct to say, 

to die) — the whole life, regime, conditions of 

labour, food, and the other internal and external 

characteristics of the Solovky, were absolutely 

The secrecy which enwraps the Solovky is quite 
comprehensible. The Soviet papers, concealing 

the grim truth from Russian readers, pass the 


8 An Island Hell 

Solovky by in complete silence. Foreign news 

paper correspondents are not allowed to go there. 
There had not been, till we got away, a single case 
in which a prisoner had succeeded in escaping 
across the frontier, whereby the public opinion of 
Europe could have learnt the truth about the 

Providence thought fit to rescue me, by a 
miracle, from this place of torment. And I count 
it my most sacred duty to tell the world what 
I saw, heard and went through there. 

These notes, of course, make no claim either 

to literary qualities and beauty of style or to 
exhaustive completeness. I look upon them as 
the testimony of a fair witness who speaks the 
truth and only the truth. And if my testimony is 
recognised as worthy of consideration, and is 
accepted as a part of that gigantic indictment which 
the Russian nation, the whole of humanity, 
history and God will without doubt bring forward 
against the Soviet power, I shall consider that my 
duty has been discharged. 

Author's Note 9 

■ 1 * ■ 1 ■ ■ ■ * ■■■■■■■■ m>< ii ■ ■ 1 1 ■ 

In confirmation of my claim to have been, to the 
best of" my power, impartial in my exposition of 
the facts, I may say that when I showed these notes 
to my comrades who escaped with me they were 
of opinion that, in my description of the regime in 
the Solovetsky Islands, I had in many cases been 
too moderate. 

FART 1 (Introductory) 





Denikin's Failure — Guerilla Warfare — An Unexpected 

Blow — The Elusive Tchelokaeff — A Treaty that 
is Observed. 

Before proceeding to my main task — an account 
of the conditions in the Soviet prisons in the 
Solovetsky Islands — I should like to dwell briefly 
on the period of my life which immediately 
preceded my transportation to that place. I think 
that this period is of more than merely personal 
interest. As far as I know, the punitive activities 
of the Soviet power in the Caucasus after the 
crushing of the armed anti-Bolshevist rebellion 
there have not found a place in any book of 

At the time of the final retreat of General 
Denikin's forces I was in the ranks of the 
Caucasian Army (on the Tsaritsin front). The 
disaster to the Volunteer Army compelled us all to 


take refuge in the mountains. Keeping touch all 
the time with the attacking enemy, our cavalry 
brigade reached the river Terek, where it was 
dissolved. The most reliable elements of it 
crossed the frontier of Georgia, at that time still 
an independent State. 

In Georgia, the members of the brigade who 
were fit for service were incorporated by Keletch 
Sultan Hire in a cavalry regiment. Its duties 
were to execute raids on the Soviet rear and throw 
it into confusion, to destroy roads and excite 
rebellion against the Bolsheviks. 

The raid into the Kuban planned in the summer 
of 1920 by the staff of General Wrangel, who was 
then in the Crimea with his army, gave Sultan Hire 
the idea of sending us also to the Kuban in the 
hope of inciting the Cossacks to rebellion. In the 
Kuban, we took part in the retirement of the 
invading troops to the Crimea, the raid having 
considerably outgrown its original dimensions. 
The bold plan of bringing about a rising did not 
succeed. We were dissolved once more. 


A White Guard in the Caucasus 






j 5 An Island Hell 

In exceptionally difficult conditions, surrounded 
troops of the Red Army, we formed a new 
detachment under the command of Colonel X 
cannot give the colonel's name; he is still 
carrying on guerilla warfare with the Soviet 
power in the Caucasus). Our detachment, despite 
its small numbers, waged warfare of a kind with 
success, and we were beginning to think of opera- 
tions on a larger scale, when we unexpectedly lost 
the support on which we absolutely depended and 
counted; the famous "national rebellion " took 
place in Georgia. In reality the country was 

occupied, almost without resistance, by regular 
troops of the Red Army. Our detachment retired 
fighting through the wild mountains to Batoum. 
Here part of it was broken up and turned into 
larger or smaller bodies of insurgents, part left for 

I made my way to Ajaristan. Thence com- 
munication was established with Trebizond, where 
Y lived; his name, too, I cannot give in full for 
the reason stated above. Until the autumn of 

A White Guard in the Caucasus 17 

1922 we and Y organised frequent raids on the 
Soviet Russian frontier. 

Then, as now, the unofficial direction of the 
whole insurgent movement in the Caucasus was in 
the hands of the well-known Colonel Tchelokaeff. 
Thanks to extensive help from the population, 
which sympathises with the " Whites," and to his 
own bravery and skill, the Bolsheviks have found 
Tchelokaeff quite uncatchable. 

I know for a fact that the " Gruztcheka " 
(Georgian Tcheka) and "Zaktcheka" (T rans- 
Caucasian Tcheka)* have repeatedly attempted to 
buy him; they have repeatedly offered him huge 
sums in gold simply to leave the Caucasus. They 
even offered him a villa in any country in Europe 
he liked to name. The elusive colonel, however, 
rejected these proposals with disgust, and is still 
carrying out surprise attacks on one or another 
stronghold of the Soviet power in the Caucasus. 

Between Tchelokaeff and the Communist 
authorities of the Caucasus a peculiar treaty 

TchefcT' GrUzinskaya (G 601 ^) a «d Zakavkazkaya (Trans-Caucasian) 


1 8 An Island Hell 

exists. The colonel's family has for several 
years been confined in the Metekh* at Tiflis, 
a prison notorious for the cruelties practised 
there. The Bolsheviks, of course, would have 
shot them long ago, had not Tchelokaeff captured 
and hidden in a remote spot, as hostages, several of 
the most prominent representatives of the Soviet 

When the colonel heard that his family had been 
arrested* he sent the following letter to the 
presidential body of the Georgian Tcheka : 

" I shall send forty Communists' heads in a sack 
for each member of my family murdered 
you. — Colonel Tchelokaeff." 

So the Tchelokaeff family and the Communist 
hostages are still alive. 

* The former palace of the Georgian kings, used as a prison for many 
year* past. 



My Foolish Credulity — A Boy Tchekist — Taken Out 

to be Shot — Mutual Reprisals — A Gallant 
Mountaineer — Identified by an Imbecile. 

In November, 1922, in honour of the anniversary 
of the October Revolution in 191 7, the Council of 
People's Commissaries of the R.S.F.S.R.* (Russia 
then still lived under that pseudonym) extended a 
full amnesty to all opponents of the Soviet power. 

This amnesty, which was signed by the flower of 

the Communist Party, formally promised complete 
oblivion of every manner of offence committed by 
White Guards of all ranks and categories. 

I cannot say how I, who knew better than anyone 
the value of Bolshevist promises, who had waged 
a life-and-death. struggle with the Soviet power 

Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic." The present official 
designation of Soviet Russia is " Union of Socialist Soviet Republic! M 




An Island Hell 

for so many years, could have believed in the good 
faith of people who always lie. I paid for my 

as a 

pardonable stupidity by my sufferings in the 

Solovetsky prison. May my fate serve 
warning to other credulous people ! 

On April, 1923, I presented myself at the 
Tcheka offices at Batoum. I was interrogated by 

an examining judge remarkable for his youth an 

impudent lad of seventeen. The detective service 
in Soviet Russia is brilliantly staffed! When he 
had totted up my "offences" in detail, the boy 
Tchekist concluded his interrogation with the 
j eer i ng cry : 

Ha, we don't use kid gloves with fellows like 

Nor did they. When I referred to the formal 
phrases of the amnesty, the examining judge roared 
with laughter. 

" Take him to the cells. They'll show him the 
amnesty there. 

They did. 

will not describe in detail my moral and 

A Famous "Amnesty " 21 

physical sufferings, the blows, the insults, the 
attempts to extract information from me by 
provocateur methods, which I endured while in the 
custody of the Batoum Tcheka. Suffice it to say 
that I was finally taken to be examined at two 
o'clock in the morning. They again went through 
my biography for the last few years with the 
greatest exactitude, and proposed that I should 
confess everything and name my principal accom- 
plices, ten in number (the number was given quite 
correctly). Persuasion was exchanged for abuse, 
and abuse for revolver shots over my head to 
intimidate me. 

I denied my guilt, and refused to name any 
accomplices. I and three other men were taken 
into the yard to be shot. They killed one prisoner 
two paces from me. The second likewise was shot 
dead. The third fell, covered with blood. They 
yelled at me : 

u Now it's your turn 1 " 

I stood beside the bodies of my companions in 
imprisonment. Almost touching my head with 


An Island Hell 

the muzzles of their revolvers, the Tchekists 
exclaimed : 

" Now confess ! " 

I was silent. For some reason they did not kill 
me. Probably my life was still useful to them in 
some way. 

I spent a few days in the prison of the Batoum 
Tcheka. Then they took me to the Trans- 
Caucasian Tcheka at Tiflis; its headquarters were 
in the Sololaki quarter, in the centre of the town. 
As regards cruelty, there was no difference between 
the regime there and that at Batoum. The 
president and omnipotent master of the Trans- 
Caucasian Tcheka was at that time the well-known 
Tchekist Mogilev sky,* who was killed not long 
ago in an aeroplane accident. 

Blood was flowing in streams in the Caucasus. 
The Communists were taking a triple vengeance 
on their prisoners for the murder of Vorovsky in 
Switzerland, the insurrection in Georgia and Lord 

• Mogilevsky was Mrs. Stan Harding's examining judge during her 
imprisonment in Moscow in 1920; see her book "The Underworld of 
State " (Allen & Unwin). 

A Famous "Amnesty " 23 

Curzon's ultimatum. In the countless prisons of 
the Caucasus thousands of people were being 
slaughtered daily. 

The Caucasus has not yet been finally pacified 
the Communists, and at the time of which 
I write the whole country was ablaze with civil 
war. Insurgent bands burst into the towns and 
hanged all the Bolsheviks. The latter replied by 
intensifying their already merciless reign of 

One day the rebels descended on the "Kursk 
settlement," close to Vladikavkaz, and, among 
other things, drove off the herds belonging to the 
Soviet. A pursuit was set on foot, headed by the 
celebrated executioner, the Lett Shtybe, President 
of the Gpu* of the Mountain Republic. The 
rebel band went into hiding in the mountains, 
taking the cattle along with it, and could not be 
traced. The Tchekists succeeded in discovering 

• Gpu (Gosudarstvennoe Polititcheskoe Upravlenie), the present official 
designation of the Tcheka. The sham "abolition" of the Tcheka in 1922 
and its " replacement " by the Gpu are ironically described by Mr. George 
Popoff in his book " The Tcheka." The synonymous terms " Gpu " and 
*' Tcheka " are used indifferently by the author. 

24 An Island Hell 

and surrounding in the mountains only one rebel 

The mountaineer, with a precipitous wall of 
rock behind him and plenty of cartridges in his 
pocket, withstood an attack from several squadrons 
of Communists for several hours. One of his 
well-aimed shots killed Shtybe himself. Although 
several times wounded, he killed eleven more 
Communists. At last he fell mortally wounded. In 
his rifle, which his cold fingers held close to his 
face, not one cartridge was found; he had fought 
to the last. He was tied to a horse's tail and 
dragged to Vladikavkaz. 

The executioner Shtybe was buried with pomp 
and ceremony in the Pushkin Square at Tiflis. 
The death of this rascal was made a pretext for 
reprisals against the prisoners. 

The cowherd in charge of the beasts which the 
insurgents had driven off into the mountains was 
a boy, deaf and dumb from birth, and clearly half- 
witted. This imbecile creature was ordered by the 
Tchekists to identify, from among all the prisoners 

A Famous "Amnesty " 25 

in the gaols of the Caucasus, " those concerned in 
the murder of that unforgettable champion of the 
happiness of the proletariat, Comrade Shtybe." 

The presidential body of the "Gortcheka" 
(Tcheka of the Mountain Republic)* did not 
trouble to ask itself how we, who had been in a 
Tcheka prison at the time of Shtybe's death and 
long before it, could have been concerned in his 
"murder." We were drawn up in two ranks. 

If the cowherd stopped in front of a man, uttered 
an inarticulate sound, or simply smiled foolishly, 
it was considered sufficient proof that the man who 
had attracted the half-witted boy's attention had 
"murdered the unforgettable Comrade Shtybe." 
He immediately received the order, " Two paces to 
the front ! " and a bullet was put through his head. 

Several dozen men were killed in this manner 
before my eyes. Then, walking along the second 
rank, the cowherd stopped before me. Death 
seemed inevitable. But, apparently, the public 

•In Russian Gorskaya Respublika, hence the portmanteau-words 
44 Gortcheka " and 44 Gor-Gpu." 


An Island Hell 

prosecutor of the Mountain Republic, Toguzoff, 
who was walking behind the cowherd, and who had 
interrogated me only the night before and knew 
perfectly well that I had absolutely nothing to do 
with Shtybe's death, felt a momentary prick of 
conscience, and led the cowherd on just as he was 
distorting his countenance in an idiotic grimace 
before me. 

This public prosecutor is a characteristic figure. 
Kazbek Toguzoff, an ex-officer, in 19 1 7 carried on 
a desperate struggle in the Caucasus in support of 
the Provisional Government, demanding the 
dissolution of all the Soldiers' and Workmen's 

Councils bv armed force and the immediate 

hanging of all Bolsheviks. By unascertainable 
methods he entered the Communist Party, and 
to-day he is still hanging men — but now anti- 
Bolsheviks I 



Prince Mukhransky' s Resolve — The Metekh — In the 

Hands of Sadists — A Shunned Locality — " Shooting 
Nights "—/I Biter Bit. 

Among the thousands of persons imprisoned in the 
gaols of the Trans-Caucasian Tcheka at the same 
time as myself were fifteen officers, among them 
General Tsulukudze, Prince Khimshieff, and 
Prince Mukhransky, whose brother was married to 
the daughter of the Grand Duke Constantine 
Constantinovitch. They were all charged with 
organising a mythical counter-revolutionary plot 
and being concerned in the Georgian rebellion of 
1923, and after prolonged, torturing examinations 
were sentenced to be shot. 

Prince Mukhransky resolved not to sell his life 
cheaply. He succeeded in getting hold of a large 

nail, found in the room. When, on the night 


2 g An Island Hell 

appointed for the execution, the door opened and 
a party of Tchekists headed by Schulman, 
Commandant of the Trans-Caucasian Tcheka, 
known as the "Death Commandant," entered to 
fetch away the condemned officers, Mukhransky 
flung the nail as hard as he could into Schulman's 
face, aiming at his eyes. The heavy nail broke the 
executioner's nose. Schulman groaned with pain. 
At once an incredible noise arose. The whole 
prison was awakened by cries and shots. The 
room was filled with smoke. All the fifteen officers 
were killed on the spot by the escort. The 
prisoners in other rooms were ordered to wash 
away the streams of blood. 

The executioner Zlieff, plenipotentiary extra- 
ordinary in Ossetia of the Gpu of the Mountain 
Republic, used to force the muzzle of a revolver 
into the mouth of the prisoner he was examining 
and turn it about so that it crushed the gums and 
knocked out teeth. My cell companion in the 
prison of the "Gor-Gpu" was subjected to this 
torture. He was an old Ossetian, who was accused 

Horrors of Tiftis Prison 


of the following offence (to quote from the indict- 
ment itself) : 

"The accused once walked past TchelokaefPs* 



After a few weeks I was transferred to the chief 
prison in the Caucasus — the Metekhf at Tiflis. 
As at the present day, the Metekh was used in 
1923 as a place of detention for political prisoners 
only; ordinary criminals were lodged in the 
Government prison. There were in the castle 
2,600 " White Guards," including a large number 
of Georgian Mensheviks. 

Inhuman reprisals were carried out methodically 
on these defenceless people — I saw many old 
men, women and children. Once a week — on 

Tuesdays — a special commission, consisting alter- 
nately of members of the Trans-Caucasian Tcheka 
and the Georgian Tcheka, sat in the commandant's 
office in the prison and drew up a list of victims, 
paying no more regard to the degree to which, in 

• See Chapter I. 
t See Chapter I. 

each case, proof of guilt existed than to the voice 
of humanity. The whole personnel of the castle, 
the " Zaktcheka " and the " Gruztcheka," was 

filled with sadists. 

Every week, on Tuesday nights, from sixty to 
three hundred persons were shot in the prison. 
That night was veritable hell for the whole Metekh. 
We did not know who was marked down to be 
shot, so everyone expected to be shot. Nobody 
could get a wink of sleep till morning. The 
ceaseless bloodshed was a torture not only to the 
prisoners, but to people living in freedom outside. 
All the streets round the Metekh had long been 
uninhabited; the population of this quarter had 
abandoned their houses, unable any longer to listen 
to the shots of the executioners, the shrieks and 

groans of the victims. 

The Tchekists in the Metekh were always 
drunk. They were regular butchers. Their 
resemblance to butchers was heightened by their 
habit of rolling up their sleeves to the elbow and 
walking through the corridors and cells, sometimes 

Horrors of Tiflis Prison 31 

tumbling to the floor, drunk with wine and with 
human blood. 

On " shooting nights " from five to ten men 
were taken from each room. The procedure of 
reading out the list of those doomed to die was 
drawn out by the Tchekists to an average minimum 
of a quarter of an hour in each room. There was 
a long pause before each name was read, during 
which the whole room shivered with terror. Even 
people with strong nerves could not withstand such 
torture. On Tuesday nights half the prisoners in 
the castle sobbed till morning came. Next day no 
one could eat a morsel of food; the prison dinner 
was left untouched. This happened every week. 
And prisoners from the Mountain Republic 
who came to the Solovky in 1925 told us 
that it was still happening then. Many people 
could not endure the prolonged nightmare and 
became insane. Many committed suicide, in every 
conceivable manner. 

While I was in the castle a well-known Tiflis 
Tchekist, Zozulia, a Cossack from the Kuban, wa9 

placed among the prisoners to act as an agent 
provocateur. This executioner, in a comparatively 
short space of time, had shot over six hundred 
persons with his own hand — a fact which he did 
not deny. At last he was recognised and killed by 
the prisoners. 

* * ♦ * * * ♦ 

I spent four months and a half in the Metekh, 
and prepared myself for death every Tuesday. 

Then began an endless series of journeys and 
fresh prisons. From the Metekh I was transferred 
to the Government prison at Tiflis, thence to the 
"Timakhika" prison at Baku, where I spent a 
fortnight, then to the Tcheka prison at Petrovsk 
(three weeks), thence to Grozny, and from Grozny 
in "Stolypin trucks," specially constructed for 
prisoners, to Vladikavkaz. Everywhere was the 
same total suppression of human personality, the 

same torture by nocturnal interrogations, starva- 

tion and blows, the same lawless, indiscriminate 



Finally " Amnestied!"— The " Shpana"—A Lucky 

Es cap e — Classifi ca tio n of Prison e rs — Mad am e 
Kameneffs Protegees. 

At last, on November 30th, 1923, i.e., seven 
months after I had been "amnestied" by the 
Batoum Tcheka, the examining judge of the 
Vladikavkaz Tcheka finally " amnestied " me in the 
following terms : 

" By order of the administrative exile com- 
mission of the People's Commissariat for Home 
Affairs, Citizen S. A. Malsagoff, having been 
found guilty of offences against the State of the 
nature contemplated by Clauses 64 and 66 of the 
Criminal Code of the R.S.F.S.R. — Clause 64, 
* organisation of terrorist acts in co-operation 
with persons outside Russia,' and Clause 66, 

Espionage for the benefit of the international 



bourgeoisie' — is exiled to the concentration camp 
in the Solovetsky Islands for a term of three 


I and several others who had been " amnestied " 
were sent north by easy stages. The first halting- 
place was RostofF. Here I first met face to face 
the so-called shpana — the ordinary criminals who 
play so singuar a role in all the Russian prisons, 
camps and places of exile. 

Robbers on a large and a small scale, burglars, 
murderers, horse-thieves, coiners, vagabonds — are 
flung in whole divisions from one prison to 
another, serve their term or escape by bribing their 
guards, but soon get into gaol again. Almost all 
are completely destitute of clothing, always 
starving, and covered with lice. The guards beat 
them over the head with their rifle butts, they 
murder one another with bricks wrenched 
out of the prison walls. Completely bestialised, 
wherever they go they gamble away their modest 
pay ok (food ration) and their last pair of trousers 
at cards. This loss they make good by robbing 

Bound for the " Solovky " 35 

newly-arrived prisoners belonging to the political 
categories. The stolen things are sold through the 
overseers of the prisons and camps, and the money 
obtained for them is spent on drink. 

On entering the room allotted to us in Rostoff 
prison, I was struck dumb with consternation; we 
were met by nearly a hundred shpana with 
deafening yells and menacing cries. In a corner 
sat five men of the educated classes, including a 
colonel on the General Staff; the shpana had 
stripped them naked in one night. 

Luckily there were men among us who had been 
through every imaginable experience. One of 
them drew a chalk line on the floor, dividing the 
room into two spheres of influence, political and 
criminal, and shouted to the shpana : 

" If one of you crosses this line, I'll kill him ! " 

He was a man of gigantic stature; the shpana 
were intimidated. When night came, we posted 
sentries on the frontier of our sphere of influence. 
But for events taking this turn, the money and 
other things which our relations had managed to 

send us when on the way to Rostoff — by means of 
substantial bribes to the guards — would have been 

stolen from us. 

From Rostoff we were sent to the Taganka in 


In the Taganka prison a noticeable degree of 
system prevails. There are separate rooms for 
« criminals " of different categories. In Moscow 
we made the acquaintance of the curious division 
of all "criminals" by the Soviet authorities not 
into two classes, " counter-revolutionaries " and 
« shpana^ as in the Caucasus and Southern Russia, 

but into three. 

The first group, called "K.R.", comprises 
persons suspected of acts or propaganda of a 
Monarchist or, in general, a bourgeois, anti- 
Socialist tendency. In this comprehensive group 
you may meet an ex-Minister and an ex-door- 
keeper, a young non-commissioned officer and a 
general, a big manufacturer and an assistant in a 
small shop, an ex-princess and her cook. The 
Soviet authorities allot to the " K.R." group the 

Bound for the " Solovky " 37 

. , . . . ■ " ' " 

whole clergy en masse, without distinction of 
Church, the whole of the educated and semi- 
educated classes, all merchants and all officers. 

To the second group, the so-called "politicals 
and party men," belong prisoners from the 
remnants of the pre-Revolution Socialist 
parties — Social Revolutionaries, Social Democrats, 

Anarchists, etc. — which have not yet been merged 
with the Communists. 

The third category comprises the criminals 
proper, the so-called shpana. 

The Soviet authorities maintain this same 
distinction in the Solovky and all the other concen- 
tration camps and places of exile or settlement. 

In the Taganka we were placed in a room packed 
full of clerics. There were the Vladika Peter 
(SokolofF), the Archbishop of Saratoff, the monks 
of the Kazan monastery, etc. Almost all were 
accused of concealing church treasures at the time 
when the Bolsheviks were robbing the churches to 
satisfy the needs of the Komintern.* These 

• The Third, or Communist, International. 

bishops, priests and monks, like us, were sent to 

the Solovky. 

In Petrograd, where we arrived at the beginning 

of January, 1924, a group of twenty men, so-called 
" Casino-ites," were placed in the same room as 
ourselves in the " second passing-through prison," 
occupied exclusively by prisoners going on to some 
other place. 

Not long before a fashionable gambling hell in 
Moscow for highly-placed Communists, called the 
Casino, had been shut on the ground of too high 
play, drunken orgies, immorality and debauchery. 
The unofficial head of this honourable institution 
was Madame Kameneff, wife of the President of 
the Executive Committee of the Moscow Govern- 
ment.* The Moscow Gpu, when closing the 
Casino, did not dare to arrest the spouse of the 
Communist Governor-General of Moscow, but the 

whole staff of the gambling hell, headed by the 
croupier Petroff, was sent to the Solovky for three 


Le. Province. 

Bound for the " Solovky " 39 

These fellows were also our companions on our 
journey to Kem. Subsequently the u Casino-ites," 
at the instance of Madame Kameneff, were sent 
from the Solovky to a voluntary settlement in the 
Petchersk region. Before our flight from the 
concentration camp I heard that Petroff and Co. 
were back in Moscow. 

Convoys of prisoners are now sent north from 
Petrograd once a week, on Thursdays. On one of 
these Thursdays — January 14th, 1924 — I and a 
large number of other " K.R.'s," " politicals and 
party men," and shpana, left for the Solovky in 
prisoners' trucks. 

PART 11 




Conditions in Earlier Camps — The " White House 

100,000 Shot — Mass Drownings — A Commission 
of Inquiry — -Survivors Removed to Solovetsky 

Until late in 1922, Kholmogory* and Portaminsk 
performed the function now discharged by the 

Solovky. When I reached the Solovky at the 
beginning of 1924, I met a number of men, the 
survivors of the " K.R." prisoners in the 

concentration camps at these places. They had 
been transferred to the Solovky in August, 1922. 
I should like to state briefly what these men, who 
had remained alive by a miracle, told me. 

The concentration camps at Kholmogory and 
Portaminsk were established by the Soviet 
Government at the end of 19 19. The people sent 
to them from every part of Russia had to live 

• On the Dvina, 46 miles S.E. of Archangel. 


44 An Island Hell 

in hastily-run-up hutments. These were never 
heated, even at the height of winter, when in these 
far northern latitudes the thermometer often falls 
to — 50 or — 6o° Celsius (90 to 110 degrees of 
frost Fahrenheit). 

The prisoners were given the following ration : 
one potato for breakfast, potato peelings cooked in 
hot water for dinner, and one potato for supper. 
Not a morsel of bread, not an ounce of sugar, not 
to speak of meat or butter. And these people, 
driven by the pangs of hunger to eat the bark of 
trees, unable to stand from exhaustion, were 

compelled by tortures and shootings to perform 
hard labour — digging up tree-stumps, working in 

the stone-quarries, floating timber. 

They were absolutely forbidden to correspond 
with their families in any way or to receive 
from them parcels of clothes or food. All letters 
were destroyed, food and other things sent were 
consumed or used by the camp guards. 

After the defeat of the armies of General 
Denikin and General Wrangel, at the end of 19 19 

The Forerunners of the " Solovky 99 45 

and 1920 respectively, captured White officers and 
men and civilian inhabitants of the territories 
wrested from the White armies — men, women and 
children — were sent to Kholmogory, convoy after 
convoy. And af ter the suppression of the Kronstadt 
rebellion in April, 192 1, all the sailors taken 
prisoner by the Bolsheviks, about 2,000 in number, 
were sent there. The remnants of Koltchak's 
army, various Siberian and Ukrainian chieftains, 
peasants from the Tamboff Government who had 
belonged to Antonoff's bands, tens of thousands of 
members of the intelligentsia of all nationalities 
and religions, Kuban and Don Cossacks, etc. — 
all flowed in a broad stream to Kholmogory and 

The higher administration of these camps was 
appointed by Moscow and carried out the instruc- 
tions received thence. The middle and lower 
personnel consisted of imprisoned Tchekists, who 
had been transported for too open robbery, taking 
of bribes, drunkenness and other breaches of duty. 
These fellows, having no one else on whom to 

avenge their removal from their lucrative duties in 
the Extraordinary Commissions of Central Russia, 
treated the prisoners in the camps with indescribable 

The assistant commandant of the Kholmogory 
camp, a Pole named Kvitsinsky, was particularly 
ferocious. This sadist-executioner has on his 
conscience the horrors of the so-called "White 
House," in the neighbourhood of Kholmogory. 
The " White House " was an estate abandoned by 
its owners, containing a white-painted building. 
Here for two years (1920-22) shootings took place 
daily at the direction of Kvitsinsky. The terrible 
reputation of the " White House " was doubled by 
the fact that the bodies of those executed were not 
taken away. At the end of 1922 all the rooms of 
the " White House " were filled with corpses right 
up to the ceiling. Two thousand sailors from 
Kronstadt were shot there in three days. The 
smell of the decomposed bodies poisoned the air 
for miles round. The stench, which never abated 
by night or day, stifled the prisoners in the camps 

The Forerunners of the " Solovky " 47 

and even made them faint. Three-quarters of 
the inhabitants of the town of Kholmogory 
were finally unable to endure it any longer and 
abandoned their homes. 

Without the slightest doubt the Soviet Govern- 
ment knew of the horrors perpetrated at 
Kholmogory and Portaminsk; it could not help 
knowing. But, having an interest in the pitiless 
extermination of their opponents, real and 
supposed, the leaders of the Communist Party 
confined themselves to washing their hands of the 
whole business. 

Executions were carried out at other places 
besides the "White House." The Tchekists 
used to come into the prisoners' enclosure and, 
having marked down the destined victims, 
point to one or another of the prisoners with the 
words: "One — two — three. . . . One — two — 
three. ..." One " meant that the prisoner was 
to be shot the same day, " two " that he was to be 
shot to-morrow, and " three " the day after 
to-morrow. This was usually done when a fresh 


An Island Hell 

large party had arrived, and room had to be made 
in the camp for the newcomers. 

According to the evidence of eye-witnesses, 
about 100,000 persons in all were shot at 
Kholmogory and Portaminsk. There is nothing 
astonishing in this figure, terrible as it is. For three 
years on end these camps constituted the chief 
prison of all Soviet Russia. To them, in addition 
to the large convoys, were sent, from every place 
in European and Asiatic Russia, all those whom it 
was for any reason undesirable or inconvenient to 
kill on the spot — for example, all those who had 
been u amnestied " by local Soviet authorities. 

The executioners of Kholmogory and Porta- 
minsk used another method of destroying their 
prisoners : they drowned them. Of a whole series 
of cases known to me I will mention only those 
which follow. 

In 1 92 1 four thousand former officers and 
soldiers of WrangePs army were ordered to 
embark on board a barge, and the vessel was sunk 

at the mouth of the Dvina. The men who were 

The Forerunners of the " Solovky " 49 

able to keep themselves on the surface by 
swimming were shot. 

In 1922 several barges were loaded with 
prisoners. The Tchekists sank some of them in 
the Dvina in sight of everyone. The unfortunate 
passengers on board the other barges, among whom 
were many women, were landed on one of the 
small islands near Kholmogory and shot down with 
machine-guns from the barges. Mass murders 
were carried out on this island very frequently. 
Like the "White House," it was heaped with 

Those who escaped being shot the Tchekists 
hounded to death by compelling them to do work 
beyond their strength. The prisoners in receipt of 
the above-mentioned ration, among them old men 
and women, worked all round the clock. It was 
counted a piece of luck to find a rotten potato in 
the fields; it was greedily eaten on the spot, raw. 

When the Tchekists noticed that the inhabitants 
of the region — Lapps, Zyrians and Samoyedes — 
were throwing bread to the crowd of prisoners as 


they passed their huts, they began to take them to 
their work by another route, through thick forest 

and marshes. 

If a newly arrived prisoner was decently dressed, 
they shot him at once, in order to get his clothes 


Early in the summer of 1922 a Kronstadt sailor 
who, by chance, had remained alive escaped from 
the Kholmogory camp. He succeeded in making 
his way to Moscow, where he used his former 
connections to obtain an audience of the " Vtsik "* 
(All-Russian Central Executive Committee), and 
said to Kalinin : 

"Do what you like with me, but turn your 
attention to the horrors in the northern camps ! " 

At this time 90 per cent, of the prisoners had 
already been done to death. Communist humanity 
had been sufficiently proved, and the Vtsik, 
exchanging anger for clemency, lent a gracious ear 
to the escaped sailor's prayer. At the end of July, 
1922, a commission started from Moscow for 

• Vserossisky Isentralnyi Ispolnitelnyi Komitet. 

The Forerunners of the " Solovky " 51 

- - - ■ — — — m ~ - — r ^ * 

Kholmogory to inspect the Kholmogory and 
Portaminsk camps. Its president was one Feldman. 

Feldman himself could not conceal his horror at 
what he saw and heard at these places. He had the 
camp commandants shot, and sent their assistants 
and the rest of the personnel to Moscow, nominally 
to be tried. All the Tchekists, however, were 
pardoned and placed in positions of responsibility 
in Gpu offices in Southern Russia. Fully under- 
standing that the " White House " and its scores 
of thousands of corpses were a burden on the 
conscience of Moscow, Feldman determined to 
wipe out the traces of all that had happened there. 
He therefore ordered the place to be burned down. 

Feldman's commission had been empowered by 
the Vtsik to amnesty the prisoners in both camps. 
Only the ordinary criminals, the shpana, however, 
received their liberty. None of the "counter- 
revolutionaries " were amnestied. 

In August, 1922, the remaining "K.R.'s" were 
sent under a reliable guard from Kholmogory and 
Portaminsk to the Solovetsky Islands, via Kem. 



The Famous Solovetsky Monastery — Its Wealth and 

Economic Strength — The Bolshevist Invasion — 
Destruction and Pillage — Organisation of the 
Solovky — The Camps and their Rulers. 

The "Solovetsky" concentration camp received 
its name from the Solovetsky Monastery, founded 
in 1429 by Saints Sabbatius and Hermann, while 
Saint Zosima built the first church in 1436. The 
island, seventeen miles long by eleven broad, on 
which the monastery stands, is one of a group 
known by the collective designation Solovetsky 
Islands; there are, besides the principal island, five 
other large ones — Ansersk, Great and Little 

_ _ __ % 

Zajatsk, Great and Little Muksalm — and a number 
of small ones. They lie in the White Sea, at the 
entrance to the Gulf of Onega, and close to the 
western coast of the Archangel Government, 

5 2 

From Monastery to Prison Camp 53 

The Solovetsky Monastery, one of the most 
ancient and most held in honour of Russian 
monasteries, has long been noted for the peculiar 
ascetism of the life led by its inmates, the 
incalculable wealth of its churches and the large 
number of monks in the brotherhood, which is 
indicated by the fact that the number of boys sent 
by their relations to the monastery for a year 
reached in some years the figure of two thousand. 

The monastery had, among other things, its own 
tannery, iron foundry, paper mill, match factory, 
saw mills, dozens of workshops of various kinds, 
a printing works (the workmen were all monks), 
a dock, a merchant fleet, and even a small navy 
tor the defence of its shores. The monastery's 
infantry and artillery, consisting exclusively of 
monks, were also designed to serve this purpose. 

The first years of the Revolution affected 
the organisation and economic strength of the 
monastery only to an insignificant degree, lying, as 
it did, to one side of the main road of Bolshevist 
pillage. Even at the time when the British were 



From Monastery to Prison Camp 55 

in these parts — it will be remembered that the 
Archangel and Murmansk areas were for a time 
occupied by a Russian anti-Soviet army, under 
General Miller, and British troops — the monastery 
still lived its old industrious life. 

The Soviet power destroyed this highly cultured 
advanced post of Russia in the Far North with 
characteristic violence and cruelty. In the autumn 
of 1922 all the wooden buildings of the monastery 
were burnt. The Bolsheviks began by murdering 
half the monks, including the Igumen of the 
monastery; the remainder they sent to forced 
labour in Central Russia. The treasures were 
plundered by the first Tchekists who entered the 
precincts. The decorations of the ikons were torn 
off, the ikons themselves blasphemously chopped 
up with hatchets for fuel. The bells were flung 
down from all the belfries and the fragments sent 
to Moscow to be melted down. 

Besides a multitude of objects precious in a 
religious and material sense, the Soviet Huns 
destroyed treasures of immense historical value. 

56 An 

The Tchekists pillaged the library of the 
monastery, which during the five centuries of its 
existence had been filled with unique works. They 
heated the stoves with rare books, old documents 
and chronicles of the greatest antiquity. Finally, 
the dishonest methods of the new management, 
combined with the criminal plundering and 
inexperience of the Soviet administration, ruined 
the factories and workshops belonging to the 

The ancient building was reduced to a heap of 
ruins. The Tchekists put up a barbed wire fence 
round it. The half-destroyed Kremlin, or main 
enclosure of the monastery, became the head- 
quarters of the " Slon."* All the branches of the 
Solovky are under the direction of the office in 
question, viz., the Solovky camp itself, the Kem 
camp (on PopofF Island), the camp on Kond Island, 
and the places of exile in the Petchersk and 
Zyriansk regions. 


• Severnye Lageri Osobennavo Naznatcbenia (Northern Camps for Special 
Purposes). Slon means " elephant 99 in Russian ; the double entendre cannot, 
of course, be reproduced in English. 

From Monastery to Prison Camp 57 

The Kem camp on Popoff Island (about a quarter 
of a mile from the shore and six miles from the 
town of Kem) is a base depot for the Solovky. In 
it are assembled, until navigation opens, thousands 
of new prisoners bound for the Solovky from all 
parts of Russia. The ordinary criminals who from 
time to time are amnestied are sent there from 
Solovetsky Island on their way south. Prisoners 
are continually being sent from the Kem camp to 
the monastery and from the monastery to Popoff 
Island for labour purposes — generally the latter, 
for most of the work is done on Popoff Island. 

Before proceeding to a detailed account of the 
administration of the Solovky, I may mention that 
when I arrived in the domain of the Slon there 
were in the concentration camps over five thousand 
prisoners of the three categories denned in a 
previous chapter — " K.R.'s," " political and party 
men," and " shpana" or ordinary criminals. 

In the monastery itself, the "K.R.'s" and 
criminals live in the cells and churches of the 
Kremlin which have escaped destruction, the 

" politicals and party men " in the hermits' caves 
which are scattered all over the island — three, six 
or eight miles from the Kremlin. On Popoff 
Island the prisoners are housed in hutments erected 
by the British — the " K.R.'s " and shpana together, 
the " politicals and party men " separately. 

The supreme head of the administration of the 
Northern Camps for Special Purposes is a Moscow 
Tchekist, a member of the Vtsik, named Gleb 
Boky. (One of the Solovetsky steamers, by the 
wav, has been re-named Gleb Boky in his honour.) 
He is a tall, thin man, apparently well educated. 
His bearing is generally gloomy, his eyes piercing; 
he always wears military uniform. He is the 
typical rigid Communist of superior education, 
with an element of cruelty in his disposition. He 
lives in Moscow, where he has some other employ- 
ment in the Gpu, and only comes to the Solovky 

now and then. 

His deputy, who lives permanently in the 

Kremlin of the monastery, is the real head of the 
Slon in practice; the fate of the prisoners in the 

From Monastery to Prison Camp 59 

Solovky is completely in his hands. His name is 
Nogteff. He is also a member of the Vtsik, and 
was formerly a sailor in the cruiser Aurora. He is 
semi-educated, drunken, and rather deaf, with a 
conspicuously cruel physiognomy. He is univer- 
sally known in the camps by the nickname palatch 
(executioner). When he goes round the hutments 
and caves of the " political and party " prisoners, 
they shout in his face "Go away, executioner! " 
(I will explain later how it is that they are able to 
do this with impunity.) 

Nogteff's right-hand man and deputy is an 
Estonian Communist named Eichmans. He 
suffers from " paradomania." Of smart military 
bearing himself, he demands the same of prisoners 
in a state of permanent starvation. They are 
compelled to salute him. Immediately on his 
arrival in the Solovky he began to teach the 
prisoners, with blows when required, how to reply 
to his " good morning " in a brisk, military tone, 
at the same time coming to attention. 

When I arrived in the Solovky, and until March, 

60 An Island Hell 

1924, the commandant of the " Kemperraspred- 
punkt "* was one GladkofF, a Tchekist, born at 
Kaluga, in Central Russia, and formerly a work- 
man. He was notable for his open peculation of 
Government money and his astounding patronage 
of the shpana. Almost illiterate, coarse, addicted 
to cards and drink, he was really in no way different 
from these common criminals. It was thus on 
what might be termed ideological grounds that 
GladkofF established and strengthened the dictator- 
ship of the shpana over the "K.R.'s" and 
politicals, and all the violence we endured at 
their hands. 

* This appalling portmanteau word, a fine flower of Soviet officia 
phraseology, signifies Kemsky peresylotcbno-raspredelnitelnyi punkt (Kem 
distributing centre for prisoners passing through). These long-winded 
official designations, of no interest to the general reader, are given here for 
the benefit of students of Soviet Russian affairs. 



Convicted Tchekists as Prison Staff — The u Public 

Prosecutor" — A Foreign Visitor's Fate — Bela 
Kun's Right Hand Man — " Smolensky Sticks " — 
Moscow Prison Riot — The " Mother " of the 
Criminals — An Unpunished Peculator. 

In March, 1924, a so-called " change of cabinet" 
took place. I will speak of* this later, and continue 
my portraits of the ministers in the earlier 

Boky, Nogteff, Eichmans, Gladkoff — these were 

the men who had the power. They were sent to 

the Solovky from Moscow by Dshershinsky 

himself. The remainder of the personnel of the 

Solovetsky and Kem camps were Tchekist 

prisoners. There were several dozen of these at 

the monastery and on Popoff Island. When the 

corruption, fraud, violence or swinish drunkenness 


62 An Island Hell 

of Gpu officials cannot possibly be concealed from 
the public eye, they are brought to account for their 
offences without delay. Some are transferred to 
other places, some are sent for terms of from two 
to ten years to the Slon camps, where they are still 
employed in their " special branch." 

I mention a few of the transported Tchekists 
who held, and still hold, important posts in the 
administration of the Solovetsky Islands. 

NogtefPs assistant on the administrative side is 
one Vasko, a brutal villain. This individual is the 
"public prosecutor" of the Solovetsky Islands, 
and all the documents relating to the cases of 
the transported persons are in his hands. The 
importance of his function is due to the fact that, 
although all the "K.R.'s" and politicals are 
regarded as having been sentenced by the Gpu 
(always in their absence, without any kind of trial) 
and the term of their imprisonment is definitely 
fixed, in reality they are all in the position of 
persons whose cases are sub judice. At any 
moment new evidence can be discovered relating 

A Gallery of Tchekists 


to their cases, with the result that their term of 
imprisonment may be extended, or they may be 
shot. Comrade Vasko's occupation is to search 
carefully for any fresh fact or allegation which may 
chain the prisoner to the Solovky more firmly and 
for a longer time; and in doing so he does not 
shrink from such methods as the employment of 
agents provocateurs, the blatant forgery of new 
" proofs," and so on. 

The management of the technical side of the 
actual Solovetsky camp is in the hands of Roganoff, 
an engineer, sent to the Solovky for offences 
relating to the discharge of his functions. I do 
not know how he manages the affairs of the camp, 
but it is manifest to everyone that Mr. Roganoff, 
now that he has turned his coat, is in no way 
different from the real Tchekists, either in his 
behaviour towards the prisoners or in his self- 
indulgent manner of living. His technical 
assistants, both at the monastery and on Popoff 
Island, are engineers recruited from among the 
prisoners. They are people of no importance, 

An Island Hell 

almost as helpless against injustice and ill-treatment 
as all the rest of us. 

The direction of the Northern Camps for Special 
Purposes is compelled, for reasons I will speak of 

later, to be self-supporting. It, therefore, con- 
cludes agreements of various kinds for the 
construction of roads and buildings with prisoner 
labour, wood-cutting, etc., with the Karelian 
Republic and with various economic organs of the 
central Government. It is also endeavouring to 
get the ruined factories and workshops on 
Solovetsky Island into working order again. 
Although all this, as will be shown later, results in 
nothing but confusion, the " Natchuslon ""* has at 
his disposal something in the nature of a " juridical 
adviser in forced labour questions." 

This, in practice, useless function is discharged 
Frenckell, a big Hungarian manufacturer. 

Frenckell came to Russia at the invitation of the 
Vneshtorg (Foreign Trade Office) to conclude a 
commercial treaty and take over certain Soviet 

* Natchalnik Upravlenia Slona (Head of the Direction of the N.C.S.P.). 

A Gallery of Tchekists 


enterprises on a lease by way of concessions. 
Instead of this he found himself sent to the 
Solovky for two years by order of the Gpu for 
"espionage for the benefit of the international 
bourgeoisie" (Clause 66 of the Criminal Code). 
Frenckell is sometimes ordered to Petrograd and 
Moscow on camp business of a commercial and 
juridical kind. The term of his punishment expires 
at the end of the present year (1925), but — by 
reason of the Gpu circular of August, 1924 — he 
will leave the Solovky not for Hungary, but for a 
further three years' stay, first in the Narym,* then 

in the Turukhanskf and finally in the Zyriansk 

The lower administration of the Solovky 
consists of "starosty" (headmen), "commanders 
of labour regiments," and u commanders of labour 
companies." • 

Until recently the headman of the Solovetsky 
camp (who was also commander of a labour regi- 

In Western Siberia, on the river Obi. 




ment) was a Tchekist named Michelson, a lame 
misshapen creature of bestial ferocity. When 
the Soviet power was carrying out reprisals on the 
defeated Crimea, at the end of 1920 and the 
beginning of 192 1, Michelson was the right hand 
of another wild beast, Bela Kun, the former 
dictator of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, whom 
he supported in his function of " President of the 
Triumvirate for the Conduct of the Red Terror in 
the Crimea." Michelson, like Bela Kun, became 
famous far beyond the frontiers of the Crimea for 
his executions of scores of thousands of WrangePs 
officers and men and of the civil population. At 
last Dzerzhinsky himself, who could not possibly 
be suspected of humane motives, was obliged to 
put an end to the Crimean St. Bartholomew's 
Nights. Bela Kun was declared to be mentally 
abnormal and was recalled to Moscow (this was 
referred to in the Soviet papers), and Michelson was 
exiled to the Solovky. At the present date he is 
directing the activities of the Gpu in one of the 
" autonomous " Soviet republics. 

A Gallery of Tchekists 67 

Another personality worth noting is Marian 
Smolensky, a member of the Polish Communist 
Party, who when I arrived at the Solovky was 
commander of a labour company. In the middle 
of 1924 he was released from the Solovky and 
received a lucrative post in the Gpu. In the Soviet- 
Polish war of 1920 he was not taken prisoner, but 
went over to the Reds of his own accord. 
Proletarian " solidarity " was coupled in him with 
hatred of his fellow-creatures. He was a violent 
Polish Chauvinist, and hated the Russians so 
bitterly that he grew purple with rage at the very 
word " Russia." He was able to indulge his hatred 
with impunity at the expense of the prisoners, 
whom he beat without mercy. Smolensky's name 
has been perpetuated in the annals of the Solovky 
by the "Smolensky sticks" which he invented. 
These are thick curved cudgels, still used for 
flogging prisoners. 

Another commander of a labour company, 
Grakholsky, must not be passed over in silence. 
He was shot at the Solovky in the autumn of 1924. 

68 An Island Hell 

Grakholsky declared that he had been an officer of 
the supply service under the Tsar, and gave the 
impression of being an intelligent man. He had 

one eye. At the end of 191 7, when the 
Bolsheviks seized power, he was appointed 
commandant of Oranienbaum, on the Gulf of 
Finland, and there he had his right eye knocked 
out, either by a bullet or by a rifle butt. 

Grakholsky's chief claim to celebrity was the 
part he took in the famous rebellion in the Butyrka 
prison in Moscow in the winter of 1923. The 
prisoners, who had been kept in prison for years 
without any charge being brought against them, 
became desperate and started a rebellion under 
the direction of the politicals (Social Revolu- 
tionaries). One fine day all Moscow was awakened 
by wild yells. The prisoners, three thousand in 
number, disarmed the inner guard of the prison, 
smashed all the windows, and demanded that their 
cases should be dealt with immediately 
Kalinin, the president of the Vtsik, and the 
dismissal of the public prosecutor of the Republic, 


the notorious Armenian, Katanian. They hung out 
of the windows and yelled till all Moscow heard 
them, chanting : " We — want — Ka-li-ni-i-i-n ! 
Ka-li-ni-i-i-n ! We don't want Ka-ta-nian ! " 

The whole city flocked to the prison. The 
streets leading to it were packed with people, many 
of them cheering. Neither persuasion nor threats 
could stop the demonstration. The yelling went 
on for nearly two hours. At last the Gpu used 
force. Two regiments of Gpu special troops 
(" tchon ")* broke down the resistance offered 
and forced their way into the prison. The Gpu 
exacted a cruel punishment for the rebellion. Its 
organisers were shot in the prison yard the same 
day; all the other prisoners were beaten with 
ramrods. There was no heating at all in the prison 
for a fortnight, although it was freezing hard and 
all the windows were broken; the prisoners had 
their blankets taken away from them and were put 
on " starvation rations." Some of the men, who 
had howled louder than the others, were sent to the 

• Tcbasti Osobennavo Naznatcbenia (Units for Special Purposes). 

jo An Island Hell 

Solovky for five years. Grakholsky was one of 
these. Vasto, however, declared, six months later, 
that he had not only yelled loudly, but had also 
been one of the instigators of the demonstration; 
and he was accordingly shot. 

Kvitsinsky, who was sent to Moscow for trial 
by Feldman after the Kholmogory inquiry, is 
already known to the reader. He was not punished 
in any way for his hideous crimes and is now in the 
Solovky, perpetuating the glorious traditions of 
the "White House" and continually wielding the 
" Smolensky sticks." 

Until the " change of cabinet " in the spring of 

1924 the commandant of the Kem camp was, as 

I have mentioned, Gladkoff, the patron of the 

common criminals. They found an even more 
potent defender of their interests in GladkofPs 

wife, a simple peasant woman from Kaluga, who 

had her husband completely under her thumb. 

Her official title was " administratrix," but the 

whole camp called her " Mother," the name given 

her by the grateful shpana. And she was in truth 

A Gallery of Tchekists Ji 

a mother to the criminals. She allowed them to do 
no work, released them from the cells, and shielded 
them when they robbed and maltreated the other 
prisoners. It was absolutely useless to complain to 
Gladkoff that the criminals had robbed you of your 
last pair of trousers. The commandant of the 
" Kem distributing centre " invariably gave the 
same answer, plus a few unprintable terms of 
abuse : 

" I don't care if they do rob you. My shpana 
have got nothing, and you're bourgeois." 

Under the regime of Gladkoff and " Mother " 
the criminals exercised a dictatorship in the camps; 
in fact, to this day they are a privileged caste, the 
aristocracy of the Solovetsky Islands. 

The assistant of the Kem commandant until the 
" change of cabinet " was Klimoff, a Tchekist 
prisoner. Before he entered the service of 
Dzerzhinsky's institution he had been com- 
mandant of the Kremlin in Moscow, and later of 
Trotsky's train. On being transferred to the Gpu 
he displayed such brilliant capacities for receiving 

7 2 

An Island Hell 

bribes that he soon began to take the bread out of 
the mouth of the president of the provincial Gpu 
in which he was employed, and his chief got rid of 
him by sending him to the Solovky for ten years. 

Men of talent come to the front everywhere. 
At the Solovky, Klimoff continued to occupy 
himself with his speciality, taking bribes. The 
Casino-ites* brought large sums of money with 
them to the realms of the Slon and received a 
further supply every month from Madame 
Kameneff. They simply showered money on 
Klimoff, and in return were continually being let 
off work of some sort. 

In 1924, instead of being brought to trial, 
Klimoff was transferred to the Solovetsky 
Monastery to take over the duties of director of 
the " Vokhra "f (internal security service). A man 
named Provotoroff came to Kem in his place, but 
soon left again to become commandant of Kond 
Island, close to Popoff Island. 

• See Part I, Chapter IV. 

f triad vnutrennei okbrany. 

A Gallery of Tchekists 73 

The assistant of Gladkoff and " Mother " on the 
economic side was a Tchekist prisoner named 
Mamonoff, a young man of twenty-two or 
twenty-three. He had been sent to the Solovky 
for ten years for the virtuous actions which all 
Tchekists commit — taking bribes, drunkenness 
and maltreating arrested persons. 

Despite his youth, Mamonoff was a man of 
experience. By flagrant thefts of State property — 
which he used to tell people about when he was 
drunk — , fraud and incompetence, he ruined the 
Kem camp economically and got the accounts 
into hopeless confusion. The Moscow Tchekist 
Kirilovsky, who replaced Gladkoff at the end of 
March, 1924, refused to take the camp over unless 
Mamonoff's proceedings were inquired into by a 
special commission. A commission of inquiry was, 
therefore, appointed by the central Government, 
and spent five months going through Mamonoff's 
books and accounts, day after day. An appalling 
picture of waste, theft and fraud was revealed. 
But Mamonoff received no punishment. 




Cold, Damp and Darkness — -The Camp: its Geography 

and A menities — Recent Improvements — Light 
Work for a High Bribe. 

Nature herself is against the exiles. The 
Northern Camps for Special Purposes lie in the 
farthest north. The climate is severe and damp. 
Summer lasts only two months, or two months and 
a half. It is very late before the snows melt and 
spring comes. There are frequent gales, snow- 
storms, biting northerly and north-easterly winds. 
For three-quarters of the year the Solovetsky 
Monastery is completely cut off from the outside 
world. The long, dark winter is most oppressive, 
especially as the lighting in the huts is so poor. 
The damp from the Solovetsky marshes has an 
injurious effect on the health of the prisoners, worn 
out by hard labour. 

The Kremlin of the monastery, surrounded by 


Popoff Island Camp 


a high stone wall, reminds one of a fortress. In 
it the "K.R.'s" and shpana live in what once 
were the monks' cells, which they themselves 
have to provide with board-beds and tables, and 
to heat, and in the churches. The latter were 
plundered not long ago, and many of them have 
broken windows. Besides the principal ones (the 
Preobrajensky,Troitsky-Zosimo-Sabbatievsky, and 
Uspensky cathedrals, and the churches of St. 
Nicholas, St. Philip, and the Annunciation of the 
Holy Virgin) there are some ten other churches and 
chapels and numerous separate hermits' dwellings, 
in which the " politicals and party men " live. The 
Tchekists occupy the house of the Archimandrite 
and the best cells. . 

Popoff Island is about three miles long and two 
miles broad. The strait, a quarter of a mile wide, 
between it and the mainland is very shallow, so 
that it has been found possible to build a bridge 
over it, on wooden piles, for the narrow-gauge 
railway which connects the island with the town of 
Kem — a local branch of the Petrozavodsk-Kern- 

j6 An Island Hell 

Murmansk line. The distance from Popoff Island 
station to Kem station — which is two miles from 
the town — is about eight miles; there is a halt on 
the way, nearer Kem. A wooden track, made of 
duck-boards laid down across the marshes, leads 
from the concentration camp to the island station, 
and similar tracks connect the various buildings. 

On the eastern shore of Popoff Island are two 
wharves, the northern and southern. Only the 
latter is in use. It is about forty miles from 
Popoff Island to Solovetsky Island — twelve miles 
from Popoff Island to Rymbaki, and twenty-eight 
more on to Solovetsky Island. Between Popoff 
Island and Rymbaki the sea does not freeze in 
winter, but between Rymbaki and Solovetsky 
Island it does. There are a lighthouse and stores 
on Rymbaki. 

The factory of the "Severoles" (Northern 
Timber Company) is close to the southern wharf. 
Prisoner labour is employed in it. The Red 
soldiers of the 95 th Division occupy two large 
buildings near the camp, close to the wood store. 

Popoff Island Camp 






River Kem. 

Railwayman's hut. 
Railway halt. 

Point from which our flight 
began — the dotted line 
shows our route during the 
first week. 
5. Two buildings occupied by 

troops of the 



95th Gpu 



Wireless station. 
Wood store. 

Popoff Island railway station. 




Building of the Severoles 

(Northern Timber Com- 

Concentration camp, sur- 
rounded by wire fence. 
Southern wharf (in U9e). 

Northern wharf (disused). 



Solovetsky Monastery, sur- 
rounded by wire fence. 

Sekirova hill, or Sekirka (place 
of punishment). 

On the northern shore is the wireless station, in 
winter the sole means of communication with 
Solovetsky Island- The wireless station of the 
monastery is in the Kremlin. In clear weather the 
notorious Sekirova hill, on Solovetsky Island, can 
be plainly seen from the Popoff Island wharf. 


An Island Hell 

The concentration camp is a rectangular 
enclosure some two hundred yards long and one 
hundred and fifty yards wide. It stands on a 
marsh at the south-eastern corner of the island, with 
heaps of stones scattered about it The marsh 
promotes the spread of malaria, scurvy and lung 
complaints. The prisoners are fearfully tormented 
by the peculiarly poisonous mosquitoes of the 
Solovetsky Islands, which breed in swarms on the 
marsh and give one no peace either by day or by 


The camp is surrounded by a high wire fence; 
along this, at intervals, stand huts for the sentries, 
each containing eight men. The Red soldiers 
in the guardroom outside the camp, generally 
thirty-eight in number, form a reserve force, to 
assist or replace the guards outside if needed. 
The Tchekists on duty are quartered in the com- 
mandant's office inside the camp. 

All entrance to and exit from the camp is 
through the main gate, which is guarded by special 
sentries. The second gate (marked 1 1 on the plan) 

Pop off Island Camp 79 

is kept permanently shut and is regarded as a 
reserve entrance. 

Most of the huts in the camp were erected by 
the British troops which co-operated with the 
Russian Northern Army under General Miller. 
A few were constructed by prisoner labour under 
the Soviet regime. Until 1925 the camp possessed 
no latrine, hospital, electric power station, or work- 
shops. There were no tracks, either of boards or 
of earth. Until quite lately the prisoners used to 
sink into the sticky slime of the marsh, and the huts 
were flooded with liquid mud. 

The wooden tracks consist of boards and planks, 
supported by small piles sunk in the marsh. There 
are in all five of these roads or paths. The 
principal road runs from the main gate to the 
eastern side of the wire fence, and is called the 
Nevsky Prospekt. Others run from the reserve 
entrance to the Nevsky Prospekt, from the Nevsky 
Prospekt to the latrine, from the Nevsky Prospekt 
to hut No. 1 (marked 29 on the plan), where the 
politicals live, and from the last store hut to the 
hospital hut (marked 36 on the plan). 


An Island Hell 



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Popoff Island Camp 81 

Earth tracks run from the Nevsky Prospekt 
along the line of store huts (30 to 33 on the plan), 
from the Nevsky Prospekt past the kitchen, work- 
shops, and electric power station to the hospital, and 
from the commandant's office past the huts where 
the shpana and " K.R.'s " are quartered. Besides 
these there are a few narrow, rough tracks through 
the marsh — from the politicals' hut to the kitchen, 
and elsewhere. 

The commandant's office is in hut No. 2 (marked 
19 on the plan). This hut is divided off into 
several compartments for the use of the various 
branches of camp government — administrative, 
economic, etc. The " specialist company," which 
is quartered in hut No. 4 (marked 20 on the plan), 
consists of tailors, bootmakers, joiners, and so on, 
who satisfy the requirements of the administration 
and the Red soldiers. 

The electric power station is in charge of an 
engineer named Krassin. He was previously in 
the Customs service, but was dismissed for pecula- 
tion and sent to the Solovky. The workshops are 

82 An Island Hell 

under an " adherent of Savinkoff," the kitchen is 
in charge of an ex-colonel named Rashevsky, and 
the stables of another " K.R." named Larin. 

The business manager of the camp is one Pavloff 
(Nikolai Nikolaevitch), a corrupt rascal. He takes 
bribes on the auction principle; he who offers most 
carries the day. I give one example. There is no 
water on Popoff Island; it has to be brought from 
Kem, and two carts with cisterns are kept for this 
purpose. As fetching water is easier work than 
<%g in g U P tree-stumps, there is great competition 
for this job. Pavloff asked openly who would 
give most for it. There were three prisoners who 
had managed to bring a good deal of money with 
them; they offered more than anyone else 
150 roubles between them — and they were still 
fetching water to the camp when I got away. 

The higher camp authorities live in a small 
fishing settlement of about seventy cottages, a short 
distance outside the wire fence. The senior official 
on duty is quartered in the camp. 



The " Distributing Hut " — Robbed the First Night — 

Criminals' Unwritten Code — Punishment of a 
Traitor — The Professor's Parcel — Successful 


All newly arrived prisoners are sent first of all to 
the "distributing hut" of the camp on Popoff 

Hardly have you set foot on the now accursed 
soil of the Solovky before you feel the power of 
the shpana. When our party, consisting of 
" counter-revolutionaries " from the Caucasus, 
bishops and monks, a group of Casino-ites and 
many others, arrived at hut No. 6 (the " distributing 
hut"), we were met by armed Tchekists, them- 
selves prisoners. They wanted to know first of all 
whether there were any Gpu employees or any 

criminal agents among us, for if so they might 


84 An Island Hell 

- - - --— ~ ~ ' - ■ — — mm * w m , — ^ ^ - M ■ ■ . ■ , w - ■ - _ ^ 

not go into the hut; the ordinary criminals would 
kill them at once. Several men stood aside. 

The rest of us entered hut No. 6. It was a 
huge wooden shed, filled to overflowing with 
shpana. There were board-beds in two tiers, one 
above the other. The beds and the floor under 
the lower tier were covered with half-naked bodies. 
The stench was so awful that I nearly fell down. 
Drunken yells and drunken weeping, the most 
disgusting abuse. There was a feeble glow from a 
lamp in a corner. 

I describe the " distributing hut " in some detail 
because all new arrivals have to go through this 
torturing stage of their captivity, and, further, 

because nothing could be more characteristic of the 
whole conditions in the Solovetsky camps. 

Having been warned by our earlier experience at 
Rostoff, we lay down on our things, putting them 
under our heads. But this precaution proved to be 
inadequate. I was awakened during the night by 
a fearful noise. Staring into the semi-darkness, 
I perceived with horror that all our things had been 

The Tyranny of the Criminals 85 

stolen — our provisions plundered, our baskets, 
suitcases and boxes broken open. Yells resounded 
from one corner, where one of the shpana who had 
taken too much for himself was being sentenced to 
a beating by an assize of his fellow-criminals. In 
another corner three criminals were hitting one of 
their comrades over the head with pieces of wood; 
he was dripping with blood, but still refused to 
give up the linen he held tightly under his arm. 
On the upper tier of beds, close to the ceiling, the 
national card game, tri Ustika, was already being 
played with our money. At the door a knot of 
shpana were conducting trade negotiations with the 
sentry, exchanging somebody's rug for spirits. 

We " K.R.'s " decided next morning that it was 
useless to make a complaint. But one of the 
politicals in our party, a Social Revolutionary, 
indignantly told the commandant about the 
behaviour of the shpana^ who had left him with 
only one shirt in winter time. The commandant, 
for form's sake, appeared in the hut and called in 
timid tones : 

86 An Island Hell 

"Give back the things! What disgraceful 
conduct ! " 

The criminals answered with a roar of laughter; 
but the next night they would have killed the 
" S.R." if we had not defended him. 

Next morning an old inhabitant of the camp, 
Bishop Illarion Trotsky, the right-hand man of the 
late Patriarch Tikhon, was ordered to conduct our 
party to hut No. 9. 

An unwritten internal discipline binds the 
ordinary criminals together. These starving, half- 
naked gallows-birds, dying by scores daily from 
scurvy and syphilis, never take a risk. The 
peculiar favour and protection which all the 
authorities of the Solovky, without exception, 
extend to the shpana is very simply explained. 

The hostility which the ordinary criminal 
instinctively feels towards the " K.R.", the educated 
barin, is felt in an equal degree by every Tchekist 
in the Solovky, though he also sees in each " K.R." 
a counter-revolutionary, a Monarchist, a bourgeois. 
A further reason why complaints against the shpana 

The Tyranny of the Criminals 87 

are fruitless is that a large part of the Solovetsky 
administration are closely connected with the 
criminal classes, not only in their mentality, but in 

their pre-Revolution antecedents. 

When I arrived at Popoff Island, there were 
about 1,400 shpana in the camp; the number 

of "K.R.'s" could have been divided into this 
total several times, and there were only seventy 
" politicals and party men." The last-named, for 
reasons which I will explain later, do no work 
at all, and " Mother " was continually letting 
the shpana off labour of all kinds, so that the whole 
immense burden of the work to be done was placed 
upon the shoulders of the " K.R.'s." 

This is still the case, although in a lesser degree : 
the shp&na do little work, the politicals none at all, 
and the " K.R.'s " bear the whole burden. 

The criminals' curious code of ethics combines 
all the shpana of the Solovetsky Islands into one 
indivisible unit. This code of ethics is ruthlessly 
applied. If the criminals discover that there is a 
sutchenyi among their number — this word means 

88 An Island Hell 

in their language a turncoat, a traitor, who is 
betraying their secrets to the authorities — he is 
immediately put to death in the most cruel manner. 
Nowhere is the principle " one for all and all for 
one " put into application in so high a degree as 
among the common criminals of the Solovky. 

In the middle of 1924 a gang of footpads, who 
had for a long time evaded all attempts to capture 
them, were arrested in Moscow. Their leader was 
a bandit named Moiseiko; his fellow-robbers nick- 
named him Petlura, for which reason the members 
of the band were called " Petlurists." These 
footpads had on their conscience, besides a number 
of armed robberies, many " wet affairs " (a " wet 
affair " means a murder in the thieves' language). 
One of the most active of the Petlurists, known 
as Avrontchik, turned sutchenyi, betrayed the gang 
and brought about its arrest. 

The gang consisted of thirty-eight persons, both 
men and women. Thirty of them were " sent to 
the left" (thieves' jargon for "shot") in the 
Butyrka prison in Moscow. Eight men, among 

The Tyranny of the Criminals 

them Avrontchik, and four women (the wives of 
men who had been shot) were despatched to the 
Solovky. When the " traitor " arrived at the 
" distributing hut," the surviving Petlurists burst 
in and almost beat him to death. The male 
Petlurists were arrested and Avrontchik taken to 
hospital. But he was not safe even in hospital; 
the four women of the band entered the 
hospital hut and killed Avrontchik, smashing in 
His skull. 

The affair was referred to Moscow. The Gpu 
replied briefly: "shoot." In November, 1924, 
the remaining Petlurists, men and women, fell to 
Tchekist bullets, confirming by their death the 
principles of the shpana. 

If the shpana do not shrink from murdering 
persons objectionable to them, much less does the 
robbing of all and sundry seem to them a thing 
to be boggled at. Further, they are compelled 
to rob by continual hunger, cold — in the Solovky 
one quite often sees shpana prisoners absolutely 
naked — and their passion for cards and drink. 

9 o 

Their robberies, the victims of which are 
invariably " K.R.'s," are planned with quite 
professional ingenuity. As I have said, on our 
arrival at Popoff Island we were moved from 
hut No. 6 to hut No. 9. This hut is divided into 
four compartments by wooden partitions. In the 
first compartment lived the headman of the camp, 
in the second the Casino-ites, the third was the 
camp prison, and in the fourth were we " K.R.'s," 
having a common wall with the prison. 

Several times the shpana played the following 
trick on us. They committed some offence more 
serious than usual, and so, intentionally, got into 
the prison; then they bored a hole in the wooden 
wall which separated the prison from our quarters, 
quite close to the floor, and at night, creeping noise- 
lessly under the beds, stole our things, food and 
money. If anyone tried to recover the things, they 
beat him to death. 

The shpana always shared their plunder with the 
prison guards and the headman, so that nobody 
paid any attention to our complaints, and once the 

The Tyranny of the Criminals 91 

headman declared that we ourselves had robbed 
each other. 

Sometimes the robberies were followed by 
impudent blackmail, also with the close con- 
nivance of the personnel. For example, among 
the prisoners in our hut was Professor Krivatch- 
Niemanetz, a very old man, over seventy. He was 
a Czech by nationality and had been employed in 
the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs as a translator. 
He was sent to the Solovky (for ten years) by 
virtue of that clause of the Criminal Code under 
which foreigners are always sent there — Clause 66, 
"espionage for the benefit of the international 
bourgeoisie." Of course he was absolutely 
innocent. Krivatch-Niemanetz was very popular 
in the camp and profoundly respected, mainly 
because he could speak nearly all the languages in 
the world fluently, including Chinese, Japanese 
and Turkish, not to mention all the European 

The Professor had received a parcel of things 
from the "Political Red Cross," which was 

92 An Island Hell 

presided over by Madame Peshkova, the wife of 
Maxim Gorky, and extended its help only to 
" politicals and party men." It evidently regarded 
" K.R.'s " as simply bandits, delivered as such to 

the caprice of Fate, the Solovetsky administration 
and the shpana. 

He was as delighted with the parcel as a child, 
but alas I not for long. The shpana had got into 
the prison again; once more they broke through 
the wall and stole our things, including Krivatch- 
Niemanetz's parcel. In the morning the criminals 
had recourse to blackmail, a method of theirs 

this time familiar to us all; they sent 
to the Professor — bv a Tchekist — a letter in 

which they offered to give him back his things for 
6 tchervontsy (about £6). The Czech, freezing 
in the draughty hut, accepted the offer as genuine 
despite our warnings, and sent the shpana 
through the same Tchekist — all the money he had, 
leaving himself literally without a kopek. As we 
expected, he never got either his things or his 
money back ! 

The Tyranny of the Criminals 93 

Some time after this a number of the shpana left 
the Solovky, among them the men who had 

robbed the Professor. On their way south they 
sent him a letter in which they promised " never 
to forget the dear Professor to their last day." 

The criminals regard stripping the "K.R.'s" 
almost as a point of honour, but stripping their own 
comrades, their fellow-criminals, as a crime to be 
severely punished. There is a special hut on 
Popoff Island in which all the parcels for the 
"K.R.'s" and politicals on Solovetsky Island 
received during the autumn and winter are kept 
until navigation opens and it is possible to com- 
municate with the monastery; when spring comes 
they are sent to the monastery by a special steamer. 
Several times members of the shpana broke into 
this hut, enjoyed the fruits of their pillage with 
impunity and received the full approval of their 
fellows. But once, when a party plundered the hut 
at a time when some parcels for ordinary criminals 
were there, they were cruelly man-handled by their 
comrades and two of them actually killed. 



Hardest Labour Done by " K.R.'s " — Counter-revolu- 
tionary: a Comprehensive Term — A Variegated 

Multitude — Special Persecution of the Clergy 

Prominent Clerical Prisoners. 

On Solovetsky Island the "politicals and party 
men " live in separate cells — hermits' caves — and 
on Popoff Island in a special hut. Both at the 
monastery and in the Kem camp the " K.R.'s " live 
in company with the ordinary criminals. The cells 
of the monastery and the huts of the camps are 
filled to overflowing with a carefully mixed crowd 
of " counter-revolutionaries " and shpana. 

The " K.R.'s " not only do all the hardest labour, 
and have to keep their own quarters clean, but are 
obliged to cleanse the criminals' bedsteads of dirt, 
remains of food, spittle and lice. Whenever a new 
party of "K.R.'s" arrive, they are compelled to 
clean out the huts, which the shpana have made so 


" Counter -Revolutionaries " 95 

filthy that the task makes many of the " K.R.'s " 
sick. In 1924, it took 1,500 " K.R.'s " two whole 
months to clean out the camp on Popoff Island. 
It is sufficient to say that the criminals very often 
fulfil the requirements of Nature on the spot, 
i.e., in the huts. 

The shpana, of course, are not in the least 
grateful for having all this done for them. On the 
contrary, this work of the "K.R.'s", so utterly 
degrading to human self-respect, is accepted by the 
criminals as a matter of course, and only exposes 
those who do it to fresh outrage from the shpana, 
supported by the camp personnel. 

For example, when we had cleansed the hut 
indicated by the authorities of all the filth that was 
in it, the grateful shpana sent us an ultimatum, 
with a detailed schedule of the quantities of bread, 
sugar, tobacco, tea, etc., which were to be handed 
over immediately to the criminal who brought the 
ultimatum. If we failed to comply with the 
ultimatum, we were told, we should be first beaten 
and then plundered in more thorough fashion. 

96 An Island Hell 

We had to hand over the things demanded. 
Ultimatums of this kind are very fashionable 
among the shpana; the " K.R.'s " are snowed under 
with them, both at the monastery and in the Kem 

It is very hard to give an exact account or 
analysis of the prisoners labelled " K.R.'s." Their 
number is considerable — there are nearly three 
thousand on Solovetsky Island — and they are com- 
posed of such variegated elements that a general 
definition of a "K.R." is very hard to arrive at. 
A division of them into groups, even an approxi- 
mate one, will enlighten the reader in a general 
sense as to who the " K.R.'s " are, and why they are 
in the Solovky, but it is bound to be incomplete ; 
there are in the camps many " K.R.'s " whom one 
does not know where to place. 

There are in the Northern Camps for Special 
Purposes many representatives of the so-called 
liberal professions — engineers, barristers, literary 
men, artists, teachers, doctors. There are many 
teachers from the primary and secondary schools 

" Counter-Revolutionaries " 


and from the universities, both men and women; 
the latter are in a majority. There are a consider- 
able number of non-party peasants and workmen, 
artisans and small employees. The Cossacks of the 
Don, the Kuban and Siberia, and the peoples of the 
Caucasus, are strongly represented. Of the non- 
Russians who are Soviet subjects the most 
numerous are Estonians, Poles, Karelians (some of 
those who returned from Finland on the strength 
of an " amnesty ")* and Jews. The last-named 
are sent to the Solovky, in most cases with their 
families, either for adhering to Zionism, or for 
" economic counter-revolution," or for so-called 

"armed banditism" — by which the Gpu under- 
stands anything it pleases, from membership (even 
in the past) of a Monarchist party to the manufac- 
ture of counterfeit notes. 

There are many foreigners in the Solovky; I will 
allude to them in greater detail later. 

The largest categories of all consist of officers 

They had taken refuge in Finland after the suppression by the Bolsheviie 
of the rebellion in Eastern Karelia at the beginning of 1922. 

An Island Hell 

of the old and the new armies, business men, 
pre-Revolution and of the "Nepman"* order, 
important representatives of the old regime, the 
bureaucracy and the aristocracy, and also the clergy. 

At the present time there are some three hundred 
bishops, priests and monks in the Solovky; to this 
number should be added several hundred laymen 
who were sent to the Solovky along with them, 
generally under Clause 72 of the Criminal Code 
« ecclesiastical counter-revolution, resistance to the 
confiscation of church valuables, propaganda, the 
education of children in a religious sense," and so 
on. The clergy at the Solovky, though more 
oppressed and humiliated by the camp authorities 
than any other category of prisoners, are remark- 
able for the submissiveness and stoicism with which 
they endure their moral and physical sufferings. 

Being accustomed to hard bodily labour from 
childhood, the clergy are rightly considered to be 
the best workers in the camps, and from this point 

•The term "Nepman" was applied to business men who grew rich 
under the " N.E.P." (New Economic Policy), introduced by the Soviet 
Government in 1922. 

" Counter-Revolutionaries " 99 

of view are almost valued by the administration, 
though it exploits them infamously. Priests are 
sent to do all the most exhausting tasks. For 
example, whole sections of the narrow-gauge 
railway were laid entirely by clerics. 

All kinds of religious services, of course, are 
forbidden. One of the priests in the camp on 
PopofT Island, a feeble old man, died. He begged 
the commandant with tears in his eyes to allow the 
Vladika Marion to administer the Holy 
Sacrament to him. The commandant refused in 
abusive terms. 

Every day in the year is counted as a working 
day, and at Easter and Christmas the authorities 
endeavour to give the clergy the most degrading 
work possible — for example, cleaning out the 

Among the most prominent clerics confined in 
the Northern Camps for Special Purposes are the 
following : 

The Vladika Marion (Trotsky), head of the 
diocese of Moscow and the right-hand man of 

ioo An Island Hell 

the late Patriarch Tikhon. Neither when at liberty 
nor in prison has the Metropolitan Marion ever 
entered into conflict with the Soviet power; but he 
has always been a vehement champion of pure 
Orthodoxy as a counterpoise to the "living 
Church," which is liberally subsidised by the Gpu. 
For the defence of his faith, and for his intimate 
connection with the Patriarch Tikhon, the bishop 
was sent to Archangel for three years and served 
his term of punishment under the most horrifying 
conditions. He returned to Moscow and again 
vigorously opposed the " living Church," took a 
skilful part in religious discussions, mercilessly 
shattered the Communistic babble of his opponent 
Lunatcharsky,* and was transported once more 

this time to the Solovky. 

The Vladika Masuil (Lemeshevsky) directed 
the affairs of the diocese of Petrograd after the 
shooting of the Metropolitan Venianin. Sentenced 
to transportation under Clause 72 of the Criminal 
Code — u ecclesiastical counter-revolution " 

• People's Commissary for Education in the Soviet Governmen 

" C ounter-Revolutionaries " 101 

which the Bolsheviks understand, inter alia, the 
defence of Orthodoxy against the destructive 
attacks of the " living Church," the bishop arrived 
at the Solovky in September, 1924. Six other 
bishops and monks and twelve laymen were sent 
there at the same time and for the same cause. 

Bishop Seraphim (Kolpinsky), Bishop Peter 
(Sokoloff), Acting Bishop of Saratoff, and Bishop 
Pitirim (Kryloff), the Igumen of the Kazan 
Monastery, as well as about fifteen members of the 
black and white clergy from that monastery, were 
all sent to the Solovky under this same Clause 72. 
Hundreds of other bishops, priests and monks 
were transported, not only because the religion they 
professed was "opium for the people,"* but 
because they would not approve the plundering of 
the churches for purposes which had nothing to do 
with the relief of the famine victims, and which 
they denounced to the public as the work of the 
supporters of the " living Church," bought by the 

* Lenin's phrase. 



^4 Wife and her Husband — A?mual "Amnesty'" 

Swindle — Boris Savinhoffs Terrible End — Famine 

Relief a Crime — Dzerzhinsky in a New Light — 

An Indefatigable Vermin-hunter — Aged Hostages 

The grounds for which people have been trans- 
ported to the Solovky are so various, and very 
often so completely baseless, that one cannot help 
supposing them to be pure inventions of the 
Tchekist "jurisprudence." 

For example, among the prisoners there is the 
aged Countess Frederiks. During the war, as a 
Red Cross nurse, the old lady performed admirable 
service in tending wounded officers and men. And 
now, in the camp, she receives no parcels from the 
Red Cross, gives what help she can to the sick, 


Victims of the Tcheka: Some Strange Cases 103 

and lives in a state of permanent semi-starvation, 
ceaselessly subjected to jeers and insults. She 
was transported for no other reason than that she 
had the misfortune to be the sister of Count 
Frederiks, who was Minister of the Imperial 
Court under the murdered Tsar, and was well- 
known as an intimate counsellor of Nicholas II. 
And while she was sent to the Solovky, the Count 
himself, a very old man of nearly a hundred, was 
until lately living in freedom in Petrograd; only 

quite recently was he given permission to leave for 

In one of the cells on Solovetsky Island (the 
so-called Women's Building) the wife of a 
prominent minister of the old regime is perishing 
of under-nourishment and unaccustomed hard 
bodily labour. The official note of the decision 
in her case ran : " Transported to the Solovky for 
five years, as being the wife of a minister of 
Bloody Nicholas! " The minister himself fills a 
conspicuous post at Moscow under the Soviet 
Government ! 

104 An Island Hell 

A locksmith named Timoshenko was sent from 
Voronesh to the Solovky for two years. He was 
a simple workman and had had nothing whatever 
to do with politics. He continually endeavoured 
to obtain from Vasko an answer to his question 
for what offence he had been sent to a concentra- 
tion camp. Not till 1925, when his term of two 
years expired, was he accused of belonging to the 
" Savinkoff counter-revolutionary organisation " 
and sent to cool his heels for three years more in 
the Narym region. 

At the same time other " Savinkoffists " were 
sent to the Solovky from Novokhopersk, a district 
town in the Government of Voronesh. They 
were : VrashnikofF, former agent of Count 
Vorontsoff-DashkofPs property in the Caucasus; 
Savinoff, a technician; Krivjakin, the business 
manager of a Soviet institution, and others. To 
these were added an engineer named Novitsky, 
from the Government of Poltava, and a crowd of 
peasants from the Government of Voronesh. 
Many of the peasants, when told at the 

Victims of the Tcheka: Some Strange Cases 105 

Solovky that they were charged with com- 
plicity in " Savinkoff's conspiracy," asked doubt- 
fully : 

" Savinkoff ? * Who's he ? A general ? " 

When I was in the Solovky, one Epstein 
arrived there; he had been sentenced to three 
years. When he asked why he had been trans- 
ported, he received from the examining judge the 
answer : 

" Because you're a business man ! " 

Exactly the same answer was received by another 
criminal, a Jew tailor named Gurieff, who kept a 
ready-made clothes shop. (He is now in charge 
of the tailors' workshop in the Kem camp.) 

Not long ago two Poles, named Minitch and 
Vintovsky, fled to Russia from Poland. The 
frontier authorities gave a ceremonial reception to 
the men, who had " escaped from cruel imprison- 
ment by the Polish Pans," but the Moscow Gpu 
sent them to the Solovky for three years. The 
two Poles are now cursing the day when they 

• Boris Savinkoff, the well-known Social Revolutionary leader, see p. 109. 


decided to cross the frontier of the " freest Govern- 
ment in the world! " 

Every year there arrive at Kem some two 
thousand " K.R.'s," who are sent on to Solovetsky 
Island when navigation is possible. The arrivals 
are especially numerous during the months which 
immediately precede November 7th (October 25th, 
old style), the date of the Bolshevist Revolution 

of 19 1 7. 

Every year at this time the Vtsik — thus contro- 
verting " the malignant lies of the international 
bourgeoisie and the shameless emigres" about the 
cruelty of the Soviet power — publishes a wide 
amnesty to " all enemies of the ruling proletariat." 
The presidents of the provincial and district 
branches of the Gpu, by way of carrying out the 
directions of the humane Vtsik, shoot half their 
prisoners a few days before the amnesty and send 
the rest to the concentration camps, to which the 
terms of the amnesty decree state that it is not 

Thus, in reality, nobody is amnestied on 

Victims of the Tcheka: Some Strange Cases 107 

November 7th. The Vtsik is satisfied, the Gpu 
is satisfied too; "the lies of the shameless 
bourgeoisie " have been exposed. 

I could fill several pages with the names of 
people who have been " amnestied " in this manner. 
I will quote, as an example, a case in which not only 
the individual who was stupid enough to believe 
in the good faith of the Tchekists, but his relations 
too, were "amnestied." At the end of 1923 a 
soldier of Denikin's army, a peasant from the 
Government of Poltava, returned to Russia on the 
strength of the amnesty proclaimed by the Soviet 
Government in November of that year. He was 
given a Soviet passport on the frontier, and on 
arriving at his home went to the provincial Gpu, 
was registered, was sent away again and spent 
several days with his family. 

Result — at the beginning of 1924 the soldier 
was sent to the Narym region of Siberia for three 
years, while his father and father's sister were 
despatched by the Gpu to the Solovky for 
concealing a counter-revolutionary (Clause 68 of 


* ■ ■ 

the Criminal Code)! At the time of my escape 
these peasants, the victims of this singular 
" amnesty," were still in the Solovky, waiting to 
be sent on to the Zyriansk region. 

"Amnestied" Emigres are continually being 
sent to the Solovky. Just before my escape a 
large party of emigres arrived, nine-tenths of them 
private soldiers; there were a few officers, among 
them a cavalry subaltern named Menuel and 
Saprunenko, who had been aide-de-camp to the 
Ukrainian hetman Skoropadsky. 

The Soviet power extends a real amnesty only 
to people, whether emigres or living in Soviet 
Russia, whose names can be used later as a decoy. 
Such gentlemen, for example, as ex-General 
Slastschoff and similar renegades can live in 
freedom and even occupy responsible posts so long 
as this suits the book of the Gpu, so long 
as the Gpu reckons that it can make use of the 

name of one of these " signal-changers " to prove 

• Smienoviekbovtsy," signal-changers "—a name popularly given to people, 
f ormerly of anti-Soviet opinions, who have changed their political course 
and become reconciled to the Bolshevist Government. 

Victims of the Tcheka: Some Strange Cases 109 

■ » 'i — — — ■ — — — " ■ ■ ^-i - 

"the good faith of the Soviet power, which 
amnesties all repentant emigres." But as soon as 
the renegade in question has "done his job," he 
can go away, or, to be more correct, he is sent away, 
to exile or to the next world. It is sufficient to 
recall the fate of the well-known Social Revolu- 
tionary Savinkoff, who was "amnestied" by 
the Bolsheviks — after which the Tchekists 
flung him from a fifth-floor window of his 

Ordinary emigres who return are immediately 
sent to the Solovky or the Narym region — that 
is to say, if the " supreme measure of punishment " 
(shooting) has not already been applied to them. 
The latter fate, as a rule, awaits officers. 

The Soviet Government, returning evil for 
good, sends to the concentration camps people who 
have " besmirched themselves " by working with 
organisations of which the unhappy Russian 
people will always retain a grateful memory. 
Among the prisoners at the Solovky is a dentist 
named Malivanoff, a Moscow Jew. Malivanoff 


An Island Hell 

gave active help to the A.R.A. (the American 
relief organisation for the benefit of the famine 
victims), with the result that he was sent to the 
Solovky for five years. As the Criminal Code of 
the U.S.S.R. does not at present provide any 
punishment for giving relief to famine victims, 
the clause relating to "economic espionage" was 
applied to Malivanoff! A number of other 
Russians who worked with the A.R.A. and famine 
relief organisations from other countries were sent 
by the grateful Gpu to Siberia, to the Narym and 
Petchersk regions. 

KarpofT, well known as the stage manager of the 
Alexandrinsk Theatre in Petrograd, and subse- 
quently of the Great and Little Theatres in 
Moscow, was sent to the Solovky in company 
with other artists — Jurovsky, Georges, etc. — on 
the charge of "counter-revolution." During my 
stay there he was sent on to another place of 


1 If the Tchekists want to transport somebody, 
but cannot find a handle for doing so, Clauses 68 

Victims of the Tcheka: Some Strange Cases in 

(" concealing a counter-revolutionary ") and 72 
("ecclesiastical counter-revolution") serve their 
purpose most conveniently. 

One of the most peculiar cases is that of a 
man named Witte, from Petrograd, who was 
transported because he bore "a counter-revolu- 
tionary name! " 

There are Communist engineers — e.g., one 
Osipoff, who was famous throughout the camp for 
the incredible quantity of lice on his body — naval 
officers who had been " seksoty,"* jewellers, hair- 
dressers, landowners, followers of Makhno (the 
Ukrainian guerilla leader), "economic bandits," 
commanders of the Gpu troops, watchmakers — in 
short, prisoners of every conceivable profession, 
position, rank and designation. 

The case of the brothers Myshelovin, watch- 
makers, was a curious one. They were both 
accused of forging and uttering notes, although the 
evidence given before the examining judge and 
the results of a domiciliary visit showed that 

* Sekrelnye sotrudniki> secret collaborators (with the Gpu). 

112 An Island Hell 

while one of the two brothers had actually uttered 
counterfeit notes, the other was completely 
innocent. And what was the decision of the Gpu ? 
It sent the guilty brother to the Solovky for three 
years — and the innocent one for ten years! ! The 
motives of Tchekist "courts" in pronouncing 
such sentences as this must always be a mystery to 
us all. 

A very interesting figure was the technical 

engineer Krasilnikoff (Nicholas Dimitrievitch). 
He had been sent to the Solovky for " ecclesiastical 
counter-revolution," but in reality he had had no 
connection with anything of the kind. Before the 
Revolution he had been well known in Petrograd 
as an able and vehement opponent of Socialism of 
all shades. When the Bolsheviks came into power, 
Volodarsky sent for him several times and tried to 
persuade him to stop preaching counter-revolution. 

But the truculent engineer, taking advantage of 
his immense authority among the workers, 
continued to make speeches and publish his 

pamphlets. He soon migrated to Moscow and 

Victims of the Tcheka: Some Strange Cases 113 

there continued his activities, the tendency of 
which was, as in pre-Revolution days, to discredit 
Socialism of all kinds. 

Dzerzhinsky himself was interested in 
Krasilnikoff and sent for him. The engineer 
appeared at the Gpu headquarters, and there, in 
the study of the President of the Extraordinary 
Commission, Dzerzhinsky and Krasilnikoff dis- 
puted for hours on end about Socialism and its 
Utopian aims. It must have been almost the only 


time in his life that Dzerzhinsky permitted 
freedom of speech — and that in the very offices of 
the Gpu! Krasilnikoff — a brilliant speaker — 
endeavoured to persuade the head Tchekist to 
abandon all hope of being able to make a reality 
ot such nonsense as Socialism. Dzerzhinsky 
would not agree, but put forward arguments on 
the other side. 

The night wore on. Dzerzhinsky offered the 
engineer a camp bed in his study, and in the 
morning ordered that he should be given coffee 
and allowed to go. Soon after, however, he was 


II 4 

arrested by subordinate Tchekists and sent to the 

In the camp, Krasilnikoff was literally eaten up 
by lice. I myself, having passed through dozens 
of prisons on my way north, possessed the 
experience of a lifetime in the matter of vermin; 
but never and nowhere have I seen such multitudes 
of lice as on the engineer. Every morning and 
every evening he used to kill vermin in incredible 
quantities, remarking every time he caught 

one : 

Aha, got him — that's another ! " 
The Solovky swallow up old and young alike. 
In February, 1925, fifty students and schoolboys 
from Theodosia, Sevastopol, Simferopol and 
Yalta, in the Crimea, arrived at Popoff Island. 
They had all got three years for organising a 
"counter-revolutionary conspiracy in complicity 
with the foreign bourgeoisie." The latter was 
alleged to be directing the conspiracy from 
Constantinople, but the whole thing was quite 
unproved. Besides adult students, the party 

Victims of the Tcheka: Some Strange Cases 115 

included some twenty pupils of the middle and 
upper classes in the secondary schools, quite boys 

Not long before I came to the Solovky, the Gpu 
of the Trans-Caucasian Soviet Republic had sent 
thither forty Tchetchentsy,* very old men. One 
of them looked out of the window of a hut, which 
is forbidden by some Tchekists, on which the 
whole party were sent to the Sekirova hill — 
notorious at the Solovky as the place of torture — , 
put into "stone sacks " (an operation described in 
a later chapter) and flogged with "Smolensky 
sticks" till they fainted. One of these aged men 
was 1 10 years old. 

These old Tchetchentsy had been transported 
as hostages for their sons, grandsons and great- 
grandsons who had joined guerilla bands and were 
waging a ceaseless war with the Bolsheviks — a war 
which is still going on. They themselves had not 
committed any kind of offence. 

The practice of taking hostages, and of carrying 

• A Caucasian nationality. 

1 1 6 An Island Hell 

out violent reprisals on the relations and even the 
acquaintances of rebels and emigres^ has been 
developed by the Soviet power into an elaborate 
system of terror, which shrinks from nothing that 
may help it to attain the object in view — the 
submission of the entire Russian people to the will 
of the leaders of the Communist Party. 


"politicals": a favoured class 

Modern Cave Dwellers — Why They are Better 

Treated — Cultural Privileges — Socialists' Courage 
and Discipline — Hunger Strikes — Common 
Criminals "Unloaded" — A Remarkable Soviet 

The " politicals and party men " on Solovetsky 
Island at the present time number about five 
hundred, including a hundred and fifty women 
and several dozen children. Children are placed 
on the same footing as adult prisoners as regards 
rights and obligations, and so receive rations. On 
Popoff Island there are now sixty male politicals 
and twenty women. Most of them are members 
of the Social Revolutionary, Social Democratic, 
" Bund " and Anarchist parties, and intermediary 
shades, transported to the Solovky for active 
opposition to the Soviet power in the years 

. "7- • • - 


1917-19 and passive criticism of its actions in the 
years that followed. 

Solovetsky Island is roughly forty miles in 
circumference and is rich in caves, inhabited in 
bygone days by religious monks, hermits and holy 
men vowed to silence. These caves, cut in the 
rock, recall mediaeval country houses. They are 
scattered about the island, the distance from the 
monastery varying from three to six or even ten 
miles. Here the politicals are settled in parties, 
twenty or thirty persons in each cave. 

In the Kem camp they live in a special hut, 
No. 11 (marked 29 on the plan), which is divided 
into two rooms, one for the men and one for the 
women and children. The hut is surrounded by a 
wire fence and is guarded by special sentries. 

On Solovetsky Island the " politicals and party 
men " can walk about the island and visit each 
other quite freely, without guards. On Popoff 
Island they are taken out for exercise with a 
sentry, not accompanied by " K.R.'s " or ordinary 

"Politicals " : A Favoured Class 119 

- - ~ ■ ~ - L __^ 

Standing much closer, in their ideology, to the 
Bolsheviks (if the Bolsheviks can be said to have 
any ideology) than the " K.R.'s " do, the politicals 
naturally receive a certain consideration from the 
Soviet authorities and have some attention paid to 
their needs and demands. In this respect the 
Soviet power is influenced partly by the right wing 
of the Communist Party and to a considerable 
extent by the Socialists of Western Europe, to 
whose utterances the Communists, despite their 
assertions to the contrary, listen attentively. The 
result is that while it sends " politicals and party 
men " to places of exile, it keeps them there under 
conditions which are paradise compared to the quite 
insupportable existence of the "K.R.'s" in the 
Solovky and in the other concentration camps. 

It was not till after the "change of cabinet" in 
the spring of 1924 that the "K.R.'s" were 
permitted to correspond with their relations — the 
letters being carefully read by the Tchekists — and 
to receive parcels from them. The politicals have 
always enjoyed these rights. 

1 20 An Island Hell 

If a " K.R. " has no relations, or his relations 
are not in a position to send him money, food and 
other necessaries, he is doomed to death from 
starvation, for the camp ration, issued for ten days 
in advance, is sufficient for two days only. In this 
connection, it should not be forgotten that the 
Gpu, when it sends a " K.R. " to a place of exile, 
generally confiscates all the property belonging to 
him and his family. The politicals receive every- 
thing they need in abundance, not only from their 
relations, but also from (1) the "Political Red 

Cross" presided over by Madame Peshkova 

(2) from foreign Socialist organisations, which 
send help on a most generous scale, and (3) from 
the "committee for the assistance of Russian 
prisoners and exiles." It must be emphatically 
stated that the " K.R.'s " did not once receive any 
help from this body. 

The politicals have their own library, which is 
continually supplemented with new Russian and 
foreign books. They are allowed to subscribe to 

•.Maxim Gorky's wife, see p. 92. 

" Politicals "; A Favoured Class 121 

Soviet newspapers and foreign journals of a non- 
political character. They are allowed to form 
societies for cultural purposes. The leaders of the 
politicals read papers on various questions and 
organise debates, both in the caves and in hut 
No. 11. The politicals are allowed to occupy 
themselves with sport. The administration listens 
attentively to any complaints they may make. 

The " K.R.'s " have no advantages of the kind. 
The camp reading-room is at their disposal, but as 
the shpana periodically turn it into a latrine, no 
" K.R." ever puts his nose inside it. Two publi- 
cations are received in the camps, the newspaper 
Bednota (Poverty) and the periodical Bezbozhnik 
(The Godless One), but even this literature the 
"K.R.'s" do not get hold of until two or three 
months after its arrival, for it is read first by the 

Kem administration, then by the Solovetsky 

administration, and then by the Red soldiers. Of 
course, the " K.R.'s " are not allowed to carry on 
any work of a cultural, let alone a political nature, 
and in any case they would have no time, cease- 


An Island Hell 

lessly occupied as they are with work beyond their 
strength. How the administration treats com- 
plaints from " K.R.'s " the reader knows already. 
Finally, the politicals, according to established 
tradition, do no work at all, which is at the same 
time an immense privilege and an atrocious 
injustice. All the work, both " outside 55 (outside 
the camps) and " inside " (inside the camps), falls 
on the shoulders, first and foremost, of the 
" K.R.'s " and in a lesser degree of the shpana — the 
latter only in quite recent times. 

But is it solely due to the sympathy of foreign 
Socialists, and a certain degree of conciliatoriness 
on the part of the Soviet Government, that the 
" politicals and party men " have been able to 
secure themselves a more or less bearable existence 
in the Solovky? Certainly not. It is in a large 
degree the achievement of the politicals themselves. 

I am a convinced opponent of the politicals' 
social programme, the ultimate aspirations of 
which are indistinguishable from those of the 
Bolshevist programme and are absolutely Utopian. 

"Politicals " : A Favoured Class 123 

But none the less, I will pay due tribute to the 
persistency and fearlessness they have shown in 
upholding, if need be at personal sacrifice, the 
claims put forward by them as a corporate body in 
order to alleviate the detestable conditions of their 
life as exiles. 

The discipline among the Socialists in the 
Solovky excels even that of the shpana. They will 
face a hunger strike, a rebellion, even death itself 
almost without hesitation, to attain the object they 
have set before them. 

In the winter of 1923 the politicals at the 
Solovetsky Monastery, then over a thousand 
strong, made a skating rink near one of the caves. 
The camp administration observed parties of 
skaters on the rink singing revolutionary songs. 
They were ordered to stop singing, but did not 
obey. Then Nogteff brought a platoon of Red 
soldiers down to the rink and opened fire on the 
skaters without warning. Nine of them (six men 
and three women) were killed and many wounded. 

The politicals declared a hunger strike and 


I2 4 

An Island Hell 

demanded that a commission of inquiry should be 
sent from Moscow. The whole body of them 
took part in the strike, on Popoff Island as well as 
on Solovetsky Island, Some of them could not 
stand upright from exhaustion, and were taken to 
hospital. One of these was the well-known 
" S.R." Bogdanoff, who until he was transferred to 
the Narym region in April, 1925, was generally 
recognised as the leader of the "politicals and 
party men " in the Solovky. 

Nogteff went to the hospital to persuade them 
to stop the hunger strike. He was received with 
cries of "Executioner! " Bogdanoff, anxious 
that Nogteff should not worry the other sick men 
by his presence in the room, told the attendants to 
carry him out into the yard on a stretcher. Then 

he asked Nogteff : 

" What can I do for you I" 

Nogteff began again to try to persuade him to 

stop the hunger strike. 

"Is that all you have to say?" Bogdanoff 

" Politicals " : A Favoured Class 12$ 

replied. " Take me back into hospital. I don't 
want to talk to a murderer." 

The end of it was that the politicals had their 
way. In September of the same year a commis- 
sion, consisting of Smirnoff (public prosecutor of 
the Supreme Court of the U.S.S.R.), Katanian 
(public prosecutor of the Gpu), and Soltz, was 
appointed. But the Socialists did not get from 
the commission what they expected. NogtefF was 
not punished in any way for shooting the nine 

persons. The commission found that he had 

acted in self-defencel 

In the summer of 1924 the politicals again 
declared a hunger strike. This time they 
demanded that the food should be improved. 
The hunger strike lasted thirteen days. Several 
persons died, and about a hundred were taken to 
hospital. Moscow was appealed to, and this time 
granted the politicals' demand. From that time 
onward they began to receive daily 2 lbs. of bread 
(white and black), 1 lb. of meat, good butter, milk, 


eggs, etc., and these rations are still being issued to 
them at the time of writing. 

At the end of 1924 and the beginning of 1925 
students expelled from the universities began to 
arrive in the Solovky from Petrograd, Moscow 
and other towns. The Soviet Government had 
begun to expel and arrest students of bourgeois 
origin in order to make room for Communists.* 

They came in three parties. The first two 
parties, consisting of about a hundred persons, 
including thirty women students, arrived at Kem 
in August, 1924. They included representatives 
of all parties (Monarchists, "S.R.'s," "S.D.'s," 
Anarchists, etc.). They declared that they were 
prisoners of the "political and party" category 
and demanded that they should be quartered in 
caves, with the privileges of the other cave 
dwellers, and receive the increased ration. The 
administration refused their request. The students 
declared a hunger strike with the friendly support 
of all the politicals. After several persons had 

* cf. " The Tcheka," by George Popoff, pp. 257-259. 

"Politicals " : A Favoured Class 127 

died of starvation the students were recognised as 
political prisoners and sent to live in caves on Kond 

Kond Island lies about ten miles from the 
monastery. Formerly " seksoty " (secret Gpu 
agents) of both sexes used to be sent there; it is 
their business to promote espionage and paid dela- 
tion among the prisoners. Nogteff bribes useful 
people by giving them better rations, gets every- 
thing he wants out of them, and when they are 
no longer required, quarters them in remote caves. 

The third party of students (twenty-six in 
number, including two Anarchists) arrived at Kem 
in April, 1925. On the journey from Petrograd 
to Kem they smashed up the trucks in which they 
were travelling. Their demand to be treated as 
politicals was refused by the administration. The 
students, again supported by the politicals, declared 
a hunger strike, which lasted five weeks. Nogteff 
appealed to the Gpu, which ordered him to send 
the students back to Petrograd. I do not know 
what happened to them afterwards. 

128 An Island Hell 

The "politicals and party men" carry on 
all negotiations with the authorities through 
" General " Eichmans, as they object to having 
any communication with Nogteff. They dare 
even to boycott publicly the most exalted repre- 
sentatives of the Gpu and ;the " Narkomyust " 
(People's Commissariat for Justice). 

At the end of 1924 a so-called "unloading 
commission," consisting of Smirnoff, Katanian, 
Gleb Boky and a secretary, came to the Solovky. 
The prisoners hoped much from it, but their hopes 
were not realised. The commission certainly 
unloaded the Solovky, but only as regards shpana; 
nearly four hundred ordinary criminals were 
released, but not a single " K.R." or political. 

When bidding farewell to the departing shpana, 

Katanian announced to the assembled prisoners : 

" If the prisoners who are being released now 
reform and become useful citizens of the Soviet 
Republic, I shall come back next year and liberate 

another batch." 

Thus the fate of the " K.R.'s " and politicals 

u Politicals " : A Favoured Class 129 

was made dependent on the conduct of ordinary 
criminals when set at liberty! 

The commission stayed in the Solovky three 
days, and spent most of their time out shooting. 
The Tchekists exterminated the last survivors of 
the wild and tame animals, the latter introduced by 
the monks at some earlier period. On the last 
day Katanian visited the caves on Solovetsky 
Island, but the politicals drove him away with 
cries of "Go away, murderer! To hell with the 
executioner! " 

The public prosecutor of the Supreme Court, 
Smirnoff, called a meeting and made a long speech. 
His speech was entirely devoted to controverting 
"the impudent calumnies of the emigre White 
Guard Press and foreign bourgeois newspapers." 
He attacked in particular the emigre Socialist paper 
Dni* for " misleading the proletariat of Europe by 
its criminal falsehoods about the Solovky." 

On his return to Moscow he wrote and published 
a pamphlet entitled "The Solovky" (State 

* Published formerly in Berlin, now in Paris, and edited by Kerensky. 


130 An Island Hell 

Printing Office, Moscow, 192 5), in which he stated 
that " complete liberty " prevailed there, that the 
food was " excellent," and that the treatment of the 
prisoners by the administration was "more than 

To crown the whole performance, Smirnoff did 
not shrink from open mockery of the prisoners. 
A large number of copies of the pamphlet were 
sent to the Solovetsky camps and distributed to 
us — to us, who were tasting every minute of everv 
day the "liberty," the "excellent food" and 
" more than lenient " treatment by the administra- 
tion of which Smirnoff talked! 

If Nogteff, Eichmans and their fellows listen to 
what the politicals have to say, the attitude of the 
lower personnel can be taken for granted. . The 
conversations of the politicals with the commanders 
of the labour regiments and companies, quarter- 
masters, and overseers of the kitchens and work- 
shops have the tone of orders. Their headman 
Bogdanoff, when speaking to any subordinate in 
the commandant's office, always began his sentences 

"Politicals " : A Favoured Class 131 

with the words " we wish " instead of " we ask." 
Before rations were distributed, Bogdanoff used to 
go to the quartermaster and choose the best meat, 
white bread, and so on, for his section of the 
prisoners. His successor as headman, the Social 
Democrat Mamuloff, a lawyer from Vladikavkaz, 
enjoys the same rights. 

The politicals, having plenty of time to them- 
selves, are able to educate their children, and bring 
them up according to their own political views. 
One sees a ten-year-old boy, the son of a political, 
walking through the huts, greeting the Tchekists 
and sentries with abuse, and, when the prisoners 
ask him in fun to which party he belongs, replying 
proudly : 

" I'm a Socialist. Down with the Communist 



I » 



Horrible Companionship — How Card Losses are Paid 

A Tchekisfs Harem — " Rouble" and" Half-rouble" 
Women — Venereal Diseases. 

But the greatest blessing the politicals enjoy is 
that their wives and children are not compelled to 
associate with the women of the shpana. The 
company of these women is horrible. 

There are at present about six hundred women 
in the Solovetsky camps. At the monastery they 
are quartered in the " Women's Building " in the 
Kremlin; on Popoff Island they occupy the whole 
of hut No. i and portions of other huts. Three- 
quarters of them are the wives, mistresses, relatives 
or simply the accomplices of the common criminals. 

Women are officially transported to the Solovky 

(and to the Narym region) for "persistent 

prostitution." At regular intervals, in all the 

large towns of European and Asiatic Russia, raids 


The Women's Fate 133 

against prostitutes are carried out in order that they 
may be sent to the concentration camps. The 
prostitutes, who under the Soviet regime have 
combined to form regular professional unions, 
from time to time organise street processions in 
Moscow and Petrograd by way of protest against 

the raids and the transportations; but this is of 
little avail. 

The character and ways of the female shpana are 
so savage that a description of them, to anyone 
unacquainted with life in the Solovetsky prison, 
may sound like the delusions of a madman. 

For example, when they go to the bath-house, 

they undress a long time before in their huts and 

walk about stark naked, to the accompaniment of 

roars of laughter and approving remarks from the 
camp personnel. 

The female criminals are just as addicted to 
gambling card games as the men. If they lose, 
they hardly ever have any money, decent clothes 
or food with which to pay. In consequence, the 
most barbarous scenes may be witnessed every day 


in the camps. The women play cards on the 
condition that the loser must immediately go to 
one of the men's huts and give herself to ten men 
one after the other. This must take place in the 
presence of regular witnesses. The camp adminis- 
tration has never intervened to put a stop to this 

The influence the female criminals have on 
educated women, "K.R." prisoners, can be 
imagined. The foulest cursing, in which the 
names of God, Christ, the Virgin and all the 
saints are called upon, universal drunkenness, 
indescribable debauchery, thieving, filth, syphilis — 
all this must in the long run be too much for the 
most stubborn nature. 

To send an honest woman to the Solovky is to 
turn her in a few months into something worse 
than a prostitute — a piece of dumb, dirty flesh, an 
object of barter, at the disposal first and foremost 
of the camp personnel itself. 

Every Tchekist in the Solovky has from three to 
five concubines at the same time. ToropofF, who 

The Women's Fate 


was appointed assistant to the Kem commandant 
on the administrative side in 1924, established a 
regular harem in the camp, continually replenished 
according to his choice and at his orders. The 
Red soldiers who guard the camp violate women 

According to the camp rules, twenty-five 
women — " K.R.'s " and shpana — are selected every 
day to act as servants to the Red divisions guarding 
the Solovky. The soldiers are so lazy that the 
prisoners even make their beds. 

The headman of the Kem camp, Tchistakoff, 
not only has his dinner cooked and his boots cleaned 
by women, but they even have to wash him ! 

The youngest and prettiest women are usually 

chosen, and the Tchekists are free to treat them as 
they please. 

All the women in the Solovky are officially 
divided into three categories: (1) a rouble 
woman (rublevaya), (2) a half-rouble woman 
(poltinitchnaya), and (3) a fifteen kopek woman 

(piatialty nnay a) . 

136 An Island Hell 

If one of the camp authorities requires a " first- 
class " woman, i.e., a young " K.R. " who has not 
been long in the camp, he says to the sentry: 
" Bring me a rouble woman." 

Honest women who refuse the " improved 
ration " which the Tchekists give their concubines 
very soon die of under-nourishment or tubercu- 
losis. Such cases are particularly frequent on 
Solovetsky Island, where the bread usually does 
not last through the winter — i.e., till navigation 
begins and fresh supplies can be brought — and the 
already miserable rations are cut down by a half. 

The Tchekists and the shpana infect the women 
with syphilis and other venereal diseases. How 
widespread these diseases are in the Solovky may 
be judged from this fact. Until recently the 
syphilitics, both male and female, were quartered 

on Popoff Island, in a special hut (No. 8). But 
their number increased to such an extent in the few 
months before I escaped that hut No. 8 would not 
hold them all, and the administration could think 
of no better solution of the problem than to put 

The Women's Fate 137 

the patients in other huts, occupied by uninfected 
persons. Of course, this only led to a still more 
rapid increase in the number of cases. 

If their solicitations meet with resistance, the 
Tchekists do not shrink from heaping insult on 
their victims. I will mention two out of a number 
of such cases known to me. 

At the end of 1924 a very pretty Polish girl 
of seventeen was brought to the Solovky. She 
had been sentenced to be shot, along with her 
father and mother, for "espionage in the interests 
of Poland." The parents were shot, but as the 
girl was under age, the supreme penalty was in her 
case commuted to transportation to the Solovky 
for ten years. 

The girl had the misfortune to attract Toropoff, 
but had the pluck to refuse his disgusting pro- 
posals. Thereupon Toropoff ordered her to be 
brought to the commandant's office, accused her of 
concealing " counter-revolutionary " documents on 
her person, stripped her naked and searched her 
under the eyes of the whole camp guard — 

138 An Island Hell 

examining with care those parts of her body where 
it seemed to him that the " documents " might best 
be concealed. 

One day in February, 1925, a Tchekist named 
Popoff appeared in the women's hut very drunk, 
accompanied by a number of other Tchekists, also 
drunk. He went up to Madame X's bed. This 
lady belonged to the highest social circles and had 
been sent to the Solovky for ten years after her 
husband had been shot. Popoff dragged her out 
of bed and said : 

"Won't you come outside the wire with us? " 
(It was there that women were violated.) 

Madame X was in a state of raving hysteria till 

the next morning. 

Uneducated and half -educated " K.R. " women 
are exploited by the Tchekists without scruple. 
Particularly lamentable is the fate of the many 
Cossack women, whose husbands, fathers and 
brothers have been shot and they themselves 



Espionage for Mexico! — A Cryptic Message — Gpu 

Tactics — Attempts to Escape Savagely Punished. 

Most of the foreigners in the Solovky were sent 
there on the charge of " espionage for the benefit 
of the international bourgeoisie " (Clause 66). 
Sometimes a second clause is brought into action 
as well as Clause 66, quite groundlessly; the 
Tchekist " jurisprudence " is most skilful in 
discovering a crime where there is not the shadow 
of one. 

' Among the prisoners in the Solovky are Count 
Villa, Mexican Consul-General in Egypt, and his 
wife. It must have been, one would think, rather 
difficult for a man living in Cairo to direct 

" Mexican espionage " in Soviet Russia, especially 
in view of the fact that the Consul-General does 
not speak or understand a single word of Russian. 
The circumstances of his arrest were as follows. 

140 An Island Hell 

Count Villa's wife is a Georgian lady, nee 
Princess Karalova. In 1924 she and her husband 
came to the Caucasus to visit her mother, with the 
permission of the Soviet Government and with their 
passports in order. Unluckily, just at that time 
the Georgian rebellion broke out. The Bolsheviks 
shot the Countess's brother, Prince Karaloff, and 
sent the diplomatist and his wife to the Solovky 
for three years for "espionage for the benefit 
of Mexico." They arrived there in February, 

The Consul-General is living in the Solovky by 
virtue of a diplomatic passport guaranteeing him 
personal immunity I On his arrival in the camp 
he tried to send to Mexico a full account of the out- 
rage committed on him by the Soviet authorities, 
but the Solovetsky censorship destroyed it. Then 
the Count had recourse to the language of iEsop 
and sent his Government a telegram which began 

with the words : 

" I am making a very interesting tour in the 

north of Russia." 

Foreign Prisoners 141 

Evidently the fact of the Mexican diplomatist's 
transportation to the Solovky is known abroad, for 
not long before I escaped some things were sent to 
him from London by aeroplane (he had been 
robbed by the Tchekists when he was arrested). 
He carries on an active correspondence with 
Tchitcherin in French, demanding his release. But 
Mexico is a long way off; she has no merchant 
fleet or money to lend the Soviets; and so the 
Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, in its polite 
replies to its colleague's letters, passes over in 
silence the question of his liberation. The only 
result of Tchitcherin's letters was that the Consul- 
General was exempted from work in the camp. 
But Countess Villa, like all women "K.R.'s," 
scrubs hut floors and washes Tchekists' shirts. 

Representatives of every nation, great as well as 
small, may be met with in the Solovky — 
Englishmen, Italians, Japanese, Frenchmen and 
Germans, besides natives of lesser States. The 
reasons for their transportation are as a rule shame- 
lessly inadequate. Is seems as if the Gpu were 


deliberately frightening foreigners away, so that 
they shall not visit Russia, become acquainted with 
the country or open commercial or any other kind 
of relations with it. I referred in an earlier 
chapter to the case of the Hungarian manufacturer 
Frenckell, whom the Vneshtorg (Foreign Trade 
Office) invited to Russia and then sent to the 
Solovky. There have been many cases of the 
kind. For example, an Estonian named Motise 
went to Moscow to see the All-Russian Exhibition, 
and was sent straight from the Exhibition to the 
Solovky ! 

At a time when there was a Government crisis 
in Lithuania, and the struggle between the political 
parties had reached an abnormal degree of bitter- 
ness, a member of the defeated party fled from the 
country into Soviet Russia. He was an engineer 
officer in the Lithuanian army. He was com- 
pletely strange to Soviet Russia and to the 
Communists, and believed that he would find in 
the neighbouring country asylum as a political 
refugee. But directly he crossed the frontier he 

Foreign Prisoners 


was arrested, accused, despite his protests, of 
" organising a counter-revolutionary plot and 
espionage in the interests of Lithuania," and sent 
to the Solovky! 

In the monastery and on Popoff Island there are 
a large number of persons formerly attached to 
the diplomatic missions of foreign States. They 
are mostly Poles, Estonians, Finlanders, Latvians 
and Lithuanians, employees of the Legations, 
Consulates and missions of their respective 
countries, who have been arrested on the charge of 
" espionage " and, more rarely, " speculation." 

All the foreigners live in the constant hope 
that their Governments will exchange them for 
Communists. The administration treats them 
cruelly. They get the same rations as the 
" K.R.'s," and the work they are given is for the 
most part severe. 

There have lately been several attempts to 
escape. The would-be fugitives have mostly 
been Estonians, Latvians, Finlanders and Poles. 
Nogteff has, therefore, given orders that prisoners 

144 ^ n Island Hell 

of those nationalities shall not be taken to work 
outside the camps. 

Attempts to escape — always unsuccessful are 

punished first by cruel torture and then by shooting 
(although, according to the regulations, the 
maximum punishment is the prolongation of the 
prisoner's term of imprisonment by one year). 

In March, 1925, a Finlander attempted to 
escape from the Solovetsky Monastery. He had 

gone to the latrine, accompanied by a sentry, 
climbed over the wall and found himself on the 
seashore. In these latitudes spring generally 
comes late, and the ice by the Kremlin was still 

thick enough to bear. The Finlander fled as fast 
as he could towards the woods, a little way along 
the coast. He was observed; the alarm was 
given and shots were fired after him. Just as 
he had reached the woods, where he could have 
hidden until he could continue his flight with 
better prospects of escaping recapture, he came 
unexpectedly to a break in the ice, and halted in 
indecision. The Tchekists caught him. 

Foreign Prisoners 


The Finlander was brought back to the camp. 
He was beaten for nearly an hour with such 
violence that the thick " Smolensky sticks " were 
broken. Then, all dripping with blood, he was 




A "change of cabinet" 

Kent Camfis Nerv Rulers — A Military Parade A 

Much-Married Tchekist — Old Abuses Continued. 

In the spring of 1924 the personnel of the 
concentration camp on Popoff Island was changed. 
The members of the Uslon (Direction of the 
Northern Camps for Special Purposes) and, at the 
monastery itself, all the Tchekists remained at 
their posts. This was what the prisoners called 
the " change of cabinet." 

A Moscow Tchekist, Ivan Ivanovitch Kirilovsky, 
formerly a sergeant in one of the Guards regiments, 
was appointed commandant of the Kem camp in 
place of Gladkoff. As stated in an earlier 
chapter, he refused to take over until a commission 
was appointed by the central Government to 
examine the camp accounts. When the commis- 
sion discovered that gross extravagance and fraud 


A " Change of Cabinet " 147 

had taken place, Gladkoff was sentenced to 
transportation for five years for " peculation and a 
negligent attitude towards his exalted (?) duties." 
Mamonoff, who was directly responsible for the 
frauds, was not punished at all; and, for that 
matter, Gladkoff himself was pardoned two days 

after his sentence and given a new appointment in 
the Gpu at Kaluga. 

Before Kirilovsky's arrival it was said in the 
camps that he was a decent fellow. We were soon 
to have ocular demonstration of his "decency." 
Kirilovsky is still in command of the camp, with 

the same assistants. 

His arrival was the occasion for an elaborate 
ceremony. Eichmans, already familiar to the 
reader, whose dream was to turn the camps 
into military colonies of the Araktcheeff* epoch, 
paraded the starving prisoners, including women 
and children, several days in succession, and made 
them execute movements, obey words of command, 

• Count Araktcheeff (1769-1834), the great Roman military organiser. 
The military colonies scheme, which he endeavoured (unsuccessfully) to carry 
out, was one of the many projects of the Emperor Alexander I. 

148 An Island Hell 

and so on, in military style. When Kirilovsky 
approached the camp, we were drawn up in two 

"Attention! ... Right dress! " 

The headman went up to Kirilovsky with his 

"All correct in the labour regiment under my 

The commanders of all the labour companies did 
the same. Then Kirilovsky greeted us : 

" Good day ! " 
« Good day ! " 

This cruel farce went on for nearly an hour. 
At last Kirilovsky asked whether anyone had any 
request to make, or any complaint against the 
administration. His question, of course, remained 
unanswered. If anyone had had the audacity to 
make a complaint, he would have been taken to the 
"Sekirka" (the place of punishment) that very 
day and been flogged to death with " Smolensky 

Kirilovsky's assistant on the administrative side 

A "Change of Cabinet" 149 

was, as I have mentioned, Toropoff, a typical 
vagabond, with goggling sheep's eyes. He was 
formerly a platoon commander in the 95th 
Division of Gpu troops, which does guard duties 
on Popoff Island. Apart from his devastating 
stupidity, his principal characteristic is that he gets 
married everywhere he goes. On Popoff Island 
he was not content with a harem of women 
prisoners, and got married — for the sixth time — 
to a "cod-eater." ("Cod-eaters" is the name 
given by the prisoners to the inhabitants of the 
fishing settlements round the camps, whose main 
article of food is cod.) 

Kirilovsky's assistant on the economic side 
was one Nikolai Nikolaevitch Popoff. He was 

always extremely well dressed, was not a Tchekist 

and not even a Communist. He was a most 
enigmatic personality. Sometimes he said he had 
been an officer in the Guards, sometimes an official 
with special duties in one of the Tsarist Ministries, 
sometimes Trotsky's adjutant. He was, in any 
case, a man of very good education and outward 

150 An Island Hell 

polish. He had an impediment in his speech, and 
was malignant and cruel in his dealings with 
"K.R.'s." When the prisoners passed him on 
their way to work, Popoff used to say to his suite 
of Tchekists — in a loud voice, so that the "K.R.V 
might hear : 

There's a pack of criminals — do you hear ? 

criminals ! They're our enemies. We'll put the 
wind up the whole crowd of them ! " 

The " change of cabinet " made little difference 
to the situation of the prisoners. The only 
modification was that "putting the wind up" 
them, and the thieving of State funds and their 
modest rations by the administration, became more 
constant than before. Gladkoff stole openly, 
Kirilovsky under a camouflage of " honesty." 

The Solovetsky life and regime in general 
the heavy toll of labour, the reprisals, the self- 
indulgent manner of living of the personnel 
remained as they had been. 




A Place in the Lamp-light " — " Outside " and 
'* Inside " Work — No Exemption for Illness- 
Horrors of Wood-cutting — How We were Fed- 
Prisoners Starved and Government Cheated. 

The huts in Popoff Island camp are about forty 
yards long and ten yards in breadth. The 
politicals' hut is twice as large as the others. From 
two hundred to three hundred persons are as a 
rule quartered in each hut; in Nos. 5 and 
occupied mainly by shpana y there are over seven 
hundred persons. 

One cannot breathe as night approaches; the 
stench is awful. In the evening, when the prisoners 
return from work, the huts, full of cracks, holes in 
the roofs, and draughts from all quarters, are so 
cold that the inmates shiver like men with fever. 

It is impossible to sleep at night for the stuffiness 


152 An Island Hell 

and human exhalations. We used to strip naked 
and pile all our clothes on top of us. 

The board-beds are arranged along the walls in 
two tiers. Everyone tries to get an " 


berth," for if you lie below a continual shower of 
lice, remains of food and spittle descends on you. 
Sanguinary fights take place for beds in the upper 



t power station was not constructed 

till the end of 1924. Until then an apology for a 
lamp — a tin containing a wick slightly damped with 
paraffin — flickered in the middle of each hut. 
This gave light to the three or four beds nearest to 
it; all the rest of the hut was in darkness. Now 
every hut is lighted with a small electric light 
globe (16 watts), but this is quite inadequate for 
such large huts. There is always a crowd under 
the one tiny lamp, trying to read, or write to 
their relations. The absence of light is particu- 
larly trying in winter. The headmen of the huts 

profit by the situation to take bribes, either in 

money or in kind, for "a place in the lamp-light " ! 

Daily Life, Work, and Food 153 

" Nep " — the New Economic Policy — affected 
even the Solovky. They were placed on a " self- 
supporting" basis, and the sum granted annually 
by the central Government for the upkeep of the 
camps was considerably reduced. Thus in the 
present year (1925) the Solovky received only 
250,000 gold roubles as against two millions 
demanded by Boky and Nogteff. 

There is no need to feed the prisoners, even on 
a semi-starvation diet. But it is quite indis- 
pensable that the administration should pocket 
large sums of money. Therefore the Natch uslon 
and his minions have crushed the last drops of 
energy out of the prisoners and turned them all 
into dumb slaves. 

Work in the Solovky is divided into two 
categories — " outside " (outside the wire fence) 
and "inside" (inside the camp). For outside 
work the prisoners are generally taken from 
Solovetsky and Popoff Islands to the mainland. 
Among the tasks which come under the head of 
outside work are : fetching wood, draining the 

154 ^ n Island Hell 

marshes, laying, clearing and keeping in order 
railway lines and roads (earth and wooden), cutting 
timber for the necessities of the camp and for 
export, and loading and unloading timber, stones 
and supplies. The names of the vessels used for 
transporting cargo are the steamers Gleb Boky and 
Neva and the barge Klara, so named in honour of 
the German woman Communist Clara Zetkin. 

By inside work is meant clearing away snow, 
helping in the kitchen and workshops, removing 
refuse from the latrines and the huts occupied by 
ordinary criminals, and performing services for 
the Tchekists. The women scrub the floors of the 
huts and offices, cook food, do the Tchekists 5 and 
Red soldiers' washing, sewing, etc. 

Work begins at 6 a.m. both summer and winter. 
According to the regulations work stops at 7 p.m., 
but in the Solovky there is a twelve hours' working 
day, with an interval for dinner at 1 p.m. Actually 
work goes on much longer than this, at the 
discretion of the supervising Tchekist. This is 

particularly the case in summer, when the prisoners 

■^■^ ■ 1 

Daily Life, Work, and Food 155 

literally have to work to fainting point; in that 
season work often goes on from 6 a.m. to 12 or 1 
the following night. 

There is no Sunday in the Solovky, nor is there 
any other day of rest in the week. Every day is a 
working day. On the great festivals, Easter, 
Christmas, etc., the hours of work are usually 
lengthened in order to insult the feelings of the 
religious prisoners.* Only one day in the year is 
set apart as a festival ... the First of May. 

Illness, physical weakness, old age and extreme 
youth are not taken into account in the slightest 
degree. A refusal to work on the ground of 
illness, even when the illness is obvious to the 
Tchekists themselves, involves, for a first offence, 
removal to the "Sekirka" (the place of punish- 
ment), and, for a second offence, shooting, 
although, according to law, the punishment for 
refusal to work — and even then only without 
adequate cause — is the extension of the term of 
imprisonment by one year. 

•cf. p. 99. 

156 An Island Hell 

The most exhausting labour is fetching wood in 
winter. This work is absolutely insupportable. 
You stand up to your knees in snow, so that it is 
difficult to move. Huge tree-trunks, cut away 
with axes, fall on the prisoners, sometimes killing 
them on the spot. Clad in rags, with no mittens, 
with only bast shoes on your feet, hardly able to 
stand for weakness caused by under-nourishment, 
your hands and whole body are frozen stiff in the 

bitter cold. 

The minimum daily task is as follows: four 
men have to cut, split and pile four cubic sajenes 
(a sajene is about two yards), and till they have 
done this they are not allowed to return to the 
camp. An extra hardship attached to all outside 
work is that if the prisoners do not get through 
their minimum task up to time and return to camp 
punctually, the shpana take the kitchen by storm, 
and they get no dinner. 

Once I was sent to the shore near Kern to cut 
wood with a party of other " K.R.V The wood 
was urgently needed, and we were chased out of 

Daily Life, Work, and Food 157 

' I - _ I ■ ■■■ ■ I L _ _ ■ I * 

our huts at 5 a.m. As a rule sentries are changed 
at 12 p.m. But this time, for some reason or 
other, no relief for our escort was sent to the wood 
where we were at work. The Red soldiers, not 
remarkable for discipline, took us back to the 
camp, demanding to be relieved. Toropoff cursed 
them and called up a fresh escort of Tchekists. 
Then we were driven straight back to our work in 
the same wood without any interval for dinner, 
and did not return till 4 a.m. In other words, we 
worked for nineteen hours in severe cold without 
food, and without interruption save for our two 
extra marches to and from the camp ! 

Everything in the Solovky that could be 
plundered was plundered long ago, and everything 
that could be sold was sold. To obtain new 
resources, the authorities made various big labour 
contracts in the territory of the "autonomous" 
Karelian Republic — for example, for the construc- 
tion of a road from Kem to Ukhta. But seeing 
that unemployment menaces Karelia itself, the 
Karelian Vtsik continually complained to Moscow 

158 An Island Hell 

that the Slon was taking the bread out of the 
mouths of the Karelians. The agreements were 
cancelled, but the Solovetsky administration 

profited by them nevertheless. This is what 
happened. Nogteff submitted to Moscow more 
or less fantastic schemes for labour undertakings 
on Karelian territory, and asked the Gpu for a 
money subsidy and spirits, the latter for the work- 
men, toiling chin-deep in the marshes! The 
money and spirits, when they arrived, were divided 
among the Tchekists, those most intimate with 
Nogteff" receiving the larger share. 

As constructional and commercial schemes did 
not yield a large enough profit, the Solovetsky 
authorities saw the only way out in a reduction of 
the rations. This they proceeded to carry out. 

Every prisoner, however hard the labour he was 
engaged on, was henceforward given 1 lb. of black 
bread daily. The bread is issued for ten days 
ahead, so that at the end of this time it is as hard 
as a stone. The bread is badly baked; the flour 
is stale and has a bitter taste. 

Daily Life, Work, and Food 159 

Hot food is issued twice a day. Dinner is a 
plate of soup, made of mouldy codfish— -evil- 
smelling water, without groats or butter; supper a 
tureen of millet or buckwheat gruel, again without 
butter. The "K.R.'s" often get no supper, 
because the shpana prisoners, who have lost their 
own portion at cards, go and rob the kitchen. 

In the camp accounts every prisoner is entered 
as receiving 3 zolotniks of sugar a day, or (as this 
also is issued for ten days in advance) 30 zolotniks 
per issue. (A zolotnik is ^ of a Russian lb.) 
What each prisoner actually gets every ten days is a 
half-glass of half-frozen liquefied sugar containing 
10 or 12 zolotniks. The Tchekists mix the sugar 
with water and thus steal 18 to 20 zolotniks on 
each ration, which, in a camp containing several 
thousand prisoners, means a profit of two or three 
score poods every day of issue. 

It is also stated in the accounts that the prisoners 
receive one-eighth of a lb. of butter and one- 
eighth of a lb. of tobacco. In reality no butter or 
tobacco at all are issued in the camps. Casks of 

160 An Island Hell 

butter and hundreds of poods of tobacco are sold 
at Kern by the authorities, who pocket the money. 

Lastly, according to the regulations, every 
prisoner engaged in hard bodily labour is supposed 
to receive, besides his food ration, 35 kopeks a day 
pocket money. The money for this purpose is 
sent by the central Government and is additional 
to the ordinary budget. No prisoner has ever 
received these 35 kopeks. Every penny of this 
" bonus " goes into the pockets of the Tchekists. 

It is possible that before the "change of 


cabinet" the feeding in the Solovky was better 
than it is now. Then the prisoners got preserves, 
large quantities of which — enough for two years 

were left behind by the British. The present 
ration amounts to nothing else than the murder 
of the prisoners by a slow death from starvation. 
I calculate, on the basis of the requirements of a 
man engaged in hard bodily labour, that this 
ration, issued for ten days, is barely sufficient for 
two or three days 1 

As I mentioned earlier in my narrative, the 

Daily Life, Work, and Food 


politicals receive the " improved ration," which is 
almost sufficient. 

The Red soldiers get the "northern ration," 
with plenty of butter, fats, white bread, and even 




Hospitals Without Drugs — " Prisoners Must Not be 

/// " — A Madwoman in Command — Mortality 
among Prisoners Encouraged — A Kindly Tchekist. 

The " Medpomoshtsh "* (medical help) in the 
Solovetsky Islands is in fact medical helplessness. 
Owing partly to lack of resources, partly to the 
ill-will of the administration of the camps and the 
secret instructions of the Moscow Gpu, there is in 
the Solovky only one really effective cure for 
illness— death. 

The sanitary conditions in the camps are 
horrible. Not only are huts, kitchens, latrines, 
etc., in an incredible state of filth, but the 
Solovetsky " hospitals " themselves can truthfully 
be called breeding-places for epidemics. The 

Meditsititkaya pomoshub. 


Hospital Horrors 163 

damp, marshy locality, the bad water, and the 
millions of mosquitoes and lice all render powerful 
assistance in creating and spreading disease. 

The prisoners have no change of linen, no soap, 
no proper clothes or boots. Their organisms, 
debilitated by permanent under-nourishment and 
hard work, are not in a state to resist disease. 

There is a "hospital" in the Kremlin of the 
Solovetsky Monastery. The word should be 
placed within quotation marks, because this 
hospital has no drugs of any kind, the beds are 
indescribably dirty, the patients are given the 
ordinary starvation ration, and the place is very 
often unheated. 

The doctor in charge of it, himself a prisoner, 

has repeatedly attempted to persuade the 
Natchuslon that in the absence of drugs, bed linen 
(the patients lie on bare boards), soap, eatable food, 
and a latrine in the hospital itself (the patients have 
to go out in the yard in all temperatures, even in 
winter), the " treatment " of the prisoners is 
nothing else than deliberate murder. But the 

164 An Island Hell 

Solovetsky administration has always refused his 
demands. Fresh thousands arrive in the Solovky 
every year, and the huts must be cleared of 

perfluous elements." Once Nogteff actually 


" Prisoners have no business to be ill ! " 

The " hospital " on Popoff Island may serve as 
another fairly good specimen of Solovetsky 
" medical help." A woman is in charge of it, by 
name Lvova (Maria Nikolaevna). She is a highly- 
trained doctor. Before she was sent into exile she 
was in the Red Cross, and served on literally every 
front in the Great War and the civil war. 
Subsequently she was a " seksotka " (secret woman 
agent for the Gpu) but was ascertained to have 
" talked indiscreetly about secret Gpu affairs," and 
was sent to the Solovky for five years. 

This woman, perhaps not bad in the depths of 

her heart, has been shattered by her work for 

the Gpu and the life in the Solovky. She has 
lost all self-control. No one in the Solovky, 
even the most disreputable common criminals, 

Hospital Horrors 165 

curses with such complete mastery of the art, 
applies such foul terms of abuse to men and God 
Himself, as the directress of the hospital. 
Criminals often go to the hospital just to listen to 
Lvova's swearing and introduce her latest gems of 
obscenity into their own talk. 

No one in the Solovky drinks so much, or drinks 
him- or herself into such a swinish condition, as 
Maria Nikolaevna. She has reached the lowest 
pitch of moral disintegration. And her care of the 
sick is what might be expected of a person in 
such a state. Human life, for her, has ceased to 
have the slightest value. The hospitals of the 
Solovetsky Islands are in themselves almost a 
guarantee that the patients who enter them will die 
en masse, Lvova accelerates the patient's death 

her roughness, her complete indifference to 
their sufferings, the cruelty of a person on the 
verge of insanity. When patients complain of the 
horrible state of things in her hospital, she always 

replies : 

"The worse the better; all the more of you'll 

1 66 An Island Hell 

kick the bucket "—followed by a quite unprint- 
able oath. 

But I will not raise my hand to throw a stone at 
this woman; from living in insane conditions she 
herself has become insane. But have Nogteff and 
the other " administrators " of the Solovetsky 
Islands neither eyes nor ears? Why have they 
put a madwoman at the head of the medical service 
on Popoff Island ? 

I gave the answer to this question at the 
beginning of the chapter. The central authorities 
of the Gpu, and under them the Solovetsky 
Tchekists, are deliberately increasing the mortality 
in the Solovky. A further proof of this is in the 
fact that prisoners are not allowed to send for a 
doctor from Kem even at their own expense. The 
Kem doctor attends only the Solovetsky Tchekists. 

The " K.R.'s " and politicals fear the Solovetsky 
hospitals like the plague. If prisoners of these 
categories fall ill, and cannot cure themselves by 
" home remedies," they die in the huts, begging 
not to be taken to hospital. Only the shpana, who, 

Hospital Horrors 167 

like Lvova, set no value either on their own lives 
or other people's, go to hospital of their own 
accord. In consequence, the ordinary criminals die 
in dozens daily, mainly of scurvy. 

The water of the Solovetsky Islands has in it 
some quality which ruins the teeth, and the conse- 
quent toothache is intensified by cold and the 
draughts in the huts. A dentist is urgently needed 
in the camps. It is true that there is a dentist in 
the Kremlin of the Solovetsky Monastery — 
Malivanoff, known to the reader as an A.R.A. 
worker, punished by the Bolsheviks in return for 
his services — but he has no drugs or instruments. 

On Popoff Island this question is decided in a 
radical manner. There is a man named Brusilovsky 
in the camp. Before the Revolution he was a 
feldsher, or local surgeon; after the Revolution — 
a Tchekist belonging to the Gpu of Elisavetgrad, 
in what is now the Government of Odessa, 
formerly the Government of Kherson. He was 
sent to the Solovky under Clause 76 of the 
Criminal Code — "armed banditism." Despite 

1 68 An Island Hell 

his profession of Tchekist, Brusilovsky is a very- 
nice, sympathetic fellow. He decided to do what 
he could for the victims of toothache, and somehow 
got hold of an ordinary blacksmith's pincers, with 
which he pulls out teeth. 

Of course, nothing can be done to cure the teeth 
while they are decaying, for there is nothing to do 
it with, neither drugs nor instruments; all that can 
be done is to pull them out, to which the sufferers 
always readily consent. Brusilovsky never takes 
any money for his services. He has a huge 
practice, especially among the shpana, whose teeth 
he pulls out rows at a time. The first time he 
pulled out quite sound teeth too, for practice. 

This compassionate Tchekist treats syphilis too. 
His method of dealing with this complaint is also 
the last word in Solovetsky science. A compound 
of infusions of herbs, spirit and something else is 
injected with an ordinary syringe. He evidently 
still needs practice in this branch, for syphilis is on 
the increase in the camps, and the mortality from 
it is growing steadily. 


* t J _ _p 


Chief Punishments — A Freezing Dungeon — " To the 

Mosquitoes! " — A Mediceval Torture — Mass 
Shootings No Longer Necessary. 

The leaders of the Communist Party declare that 
the Northern Camps for Special Purposes are 
something in the nature of a reformatory. The 
punishments administered in these establishments, 
they would have the world believe, are intended 
to make the prisoners mend their ways and become 
useful citizens of the Soviet Republic. 

In reality, the camp punishments, like the camp 
medical arrangements, are based upon no other 
calculation than that of sending the largest possible 
number of prisoners, more or less swiftly, to " the 
other side." 

Refusal to work, insubordination towards the 

authorities, " counter-revolutionary propaganda," 


170 An Island Hell 

insulting words or behaviour to the personnel, the 
discovery of a "criminal past" (this is Vasko's 
occupation), attempted escape — for these offences 
there are a number of punishments, in accordance 
with the heinousness of the offence. I will mention 
the chief punishments : 

(1) The "Sekirka." 

(2) "To the Mosquitoes! " 

(3) Prolongation of the term of imprisonment 

(4) " Stone sacks." 

(5) Shooting. 

Such corrective measures as blows in the face, 
the confiscation of parcels from relations for an 
indefinite time (for the benefit of the confiscator ! ), 
flogging with the whip or only " Smolensky 
sticks " without " stone sacks," etc., are so common 
in the Solovky that there is no need to dwell on 

The " Sekirka " is a prison on the notorious 
Sekirova hill, on Solovetsky Island, two miles from 
the Kremlin. In bygone days it was the cave of one 

m~ — i i ~ - _ _ - — 

How " Useful Citizens" are Made 171 

of the most honoured of the legendary heroes of 
the Solovetsky Islands. The " guilty " prisoner is 
sent to the Sekirka for a term of from two to six 
months. The regime there is as follows. The 
prisoner receives daily half a pound of bread, a jug 
of cold water, and nothing else. All the doors and 
windows of the cave are fastened. He has no 
communication at all with the outside world. The 
dungeon is absolutely unheated. As a rule, when 
the term of his punishment comes to an end, there 
is nothing left of the prisoner but a frozen corpse. 
In rare cases a half-dead skeleton emerges from the 

"To the Mosquitoes!" is a form of punish- 
ment very popular with the Solovetsky Tchekists. 
The manner of its infliction is as follows. The 
prisoner is stripped naked and made to stand on 
a particular stone opposite the commandant's 
office. He is ordered, with threats of " stone 
sacks " and shooting, to stand absolutely still, not 
to move a finger and not to drive away the 
mosquitoes, which cover the poor wretch's body as 


An Island Hell 

with a thick black crust. The torture is continued 
for several hours. When the punishment is over, 
the victim's body is one huge sore from the bites 
of the poisonous insects. The weaker prisoners 
die, and the stronger cannot sit or lie down for 
many weeks after the punishment. 

Prolongation of the term of imprisonment is a 
punishment now comparatively seldom applied, 
for the simple reason that the orders recently 
circulated by the Gpu have made every prisoner 
a convict for an indefinite term. When he has 
served his two, three, five or ten years, he is sent 
on from the Solovky to the Petchersk region, 
then to the Narym, then to the Zyriansk, and so 
on, unendingly. For more serious "offences," 
therefore, the Tchekists send the prisoners to the 
" sacks." 

In the old times, every monk in the Kremlin, 
and every holy man in the caves, had a small 
cellar cut in the rock near his cell, in which he 
kept his food supplies. These cellars, three or 
four feet in depth, have no doors, and the food 

How " Useful Citizens" are Made 173 

* ■ ■ ■ ■ - , 1 

was placed in them from above through small 

These are the famous " stone sacks." The 

Tchekists take the prisoner to the " sack," and ask 
him : 

" How '11 you get in — head first or feet first ? " 

If the prisoner gets into the " sack " head first, 
he is beaten with " Smolensky sticks " on the 
back and legs; if he gets in feet first, he is beaten 
about the head and face. The beating goes on till 
his whole body is inside the " sack." The " sack " 
is too narrow for him to sit, and too low for him 
to stand up straight, so that he is obliged to stand 
with his knees bent and his head poked forward. 
He is imprisoned in the "sack" for a period 
varying between three days and a week. The 
rations are the same as at the Sekirka. Few people 
can endure this mediaeval punishment. - 

There are no mass shootings at the Solovky like 
those carried out at the "White House," but 
individual shootings are very frequent, and are 
regarded as an ordinary occurrence. A larger or 

174 An lslan 

smaller number of prisoners are shot whenever the 
Soviet Government retaliates for measures of 
suppression against Communists in foreign States 
by a terrorist outburst on its own part. Thus, 
over a hundred persons, both Russians and 
foreigners, were shot after the suppression of the 
Communist revolt of December ist, 1924, by the 
Estonian Government, and a rather smaller 
number after the suppression of the rebellion in 

I gathered from the candid statements of the 
Tchekists that the Gpu has now no need to make 
a regular practice of mass shootings, because more 
humane measures — slow murder from starvation, 
work beyond the prisoners' strength, and " medical 
help " — are perfectly adequate substitutes. 

It would be a mistake to suppose that one must 
commit some kind of offence to be sent to the 
Sekirka, the " sacks " and the mosquitoes, or to 
be shot. The prisoners are handed over by the 
central authorities to the unchecked caprice of the 

camp administration. If the Tchekists dislike 

How " Useful Citizens" are Made 175 

your face, if you are seen crossing yourself on the 
sly, if you have said anything about your hard lot 
in your letters to your relations — the Sekirka and 
the " sacks " open their dreadful doors to you. 



Luxurious Proletarians — Merry Gatherings at Kent — 

A Revolting Orgy — " Holding the Banner of 
Communism Aloft" — How Criminals are 

The concentration camp on Solovetsky Island is 
guarded by the 3rd Escort Regiment of the Gpu 
troops (300 rifles strong), and that on Popoff 
Island by the 95th Division of the Gpu troops 
(150 strong). In spite of the good food they 
receive, scurvy rages among the Red soldiers, as 
does also syphilis. The soldiers, with the exception 
of those on duty guarding the camps, live in 
private quarters. 

The Solovky guards, drawn from the criminal 
canaille which, after the October Revolution, 

suddenly discovered its " class consciousness " and 


How the Tchekists Live 177 

joined the Communist Party in tens of thousands, 
spend all their time in card-playing, debauchery, 
swilling home-distilled spirits and drunken orgies. 

In this they follow the example of the higher 
officials. The life led by the Solovky authorities 
is far from proletarian. Nogteff, Eichmans, 
Vasko, Kirilovsky, Popoff and the rest deny 
themselves nothing. Having earned piles of 
money at the expense of the prisoners, the 
"administrators" lead a thoroughly non-Com- 
munistic life. Liquor, clothes, and other things 
are always arriving for them in truck-loads from 
Moscow, Petrograd and Kern. I myself took 
part in the unloading of two of these trucks. 
They contained different kinds of vodka, Russian 
and foreign wines, including champagne, liqueurs, 
all kinds of hors d'ceuvres, expensive clothes, both 
men's and women's— the latter for the harems 
comfortable furniture, and so on. 

The "admini 

are notorious for their 

orgjes not only in the Solovky, but much furth 
afield— all over Northern Russia. The scene ■ 


jyg An isian 

the debauches is usually Kem, where the Tchekists 
from the monastery and from Popoff Island 
assemble to make merry. 

On Popoff Island itself they take place in the 
quarters of Kirilovsky, the commandant of the 
" Kemperraspredpunkt," who not long ago had the 
reputation of being a decently conducted man. 
They nearly always end in brawls. 

For example, in August, 1924, a drinking-bout 
of the usual kind was held in Kirilovsky's quarters. 
Guests and host drank so heavily that Kirilovsky 
felt ill, and they took him out into the fresh air. 
When he returned to the house, the guests, as 
drunk as pigs, were vomiting over the table, and 
his wife was lying on a sofa in Popoff's arms in 
a shameless posture. 

Infuriated, Kirilovsky dragged Popoff from the 
sofa and flung him away so violently that his head 
went through the door. Popoff, however, 
managed to give him a blow in the face, smashing 
his glasses. Shots were fired. Popoff was dragged 
out of Kirilovsky's quarters and taken home, 


where he broke all the windows with his fists and, 
shedding bitter tears, began to bellow so that all 

the camp could hear him : 

" They've killed me ! They've killed me ! 55 
It would appear that such a manner of life is 
ideal Communism, for in November, 1924, at the 
time of the anniversary of the October Revolution, 
the Natchuslon received a letter of thanks from 
the Moscow Gpu, in which the latter expressed 
its gratitude to Nogteff and his, colleagues for 
" holding the banner of Communism aloft." 

In the time which their alcoholic occupations 
leave at their disposal, the " administrators " of 
the Solovetsky Islands amuse themselves 

amnestying prisoners of the shpana category. 
Every day, after navigation has begun, some five 
hundred prisoners are released. 

The procedure is as follows. The ordinary 
criminals, male and female, are stripped of their 
last rags (" State clothing are given railway 
tickets to the towns where they live, and a supply 
of bread in accordance with the length of their 

180 An Island Hell 

journey. Then they are put into freight trucks 
stark naked, and sent off to Kem station! 
Naturally half the shpana rob somebody to get 
clothes directly they arrive at Kem station, and 
return to the camp to undergo an extra year's 
imprisonment. The rest go away naked. 

None of the " K.R.'s " are ever liberated. From 
time to time it is rumoured that the politicals are 
to be released or transferred to a prison on the 
mainland of Russia. These rumours usually 
remain rumours; if politicals leave the Solovky it 
is only for another place of exile. 

PART 111 



Bolshevist Hypocrisy — Prisoners for Life — The Student 

Nikolaeff's Escape — Failure of other Attempts. 

The foreign workmen who come to Moscow in 
batches are given to understand by the Soviet 
Government that it, of course, is against the 
Solovky; it is willing to admit that the Solovky 
are a discredit to the " humane 55 rule of the 
workers and peasants. But, it asks, what is to be 

done? the counter-revolutionaries continue 

their struggle with the Soviet power, and so the 
Gpu insists on the maintenance of the concentra- 
tion camps. The Gpu, for its part, puts the blame 
on the Council of People's Commissaries. 

And while they are saying this, the Council of 
People's Commissaries and the Gpu are fettering 

their prisoners to the Solovky and its " continua- 


184 An Island Hell 

tions M for their whole lives — by sending them on 
to other more or less remote places. Since the 

autumn of 1924, by a special order of the Gpu 
submitted to and confirmed by the Vtsik — every 
prisoner who has served his term in the Solovky is 
sent for three years to a " free settlement " in the 
Narym region, then to the Petchersk region for 
three years more, then to the Turukhansk and 
Zyriansk regions — that is to say, for twelve years 
in all. For those who somehow or other contrive 
not to die during these twelve years, a final reward 
is reserved — exile to a permanent settlement in 

Eastern Siberia. 

Thus, whatever " offence " you have been found 
guilty of, however you have conducted yourself 
in the Solovky, you will never be released. Every 

person transported by the Soviet Government is 
doomed to die on his journeyings from prison to 
prison, from one place of forced exile to another. 

The terrible knowledge that one is a convict 
for life, that, after the Solovky, one will be driven 
off to new torments, be given a new Nogteff, a new 

The Only Way Out 185 

Kirilovsky, a new ration, be compelled to do more 
hard labour, get into other " sacks," rot in another 
Sekirka, makes the prisoner realise that this endless, 
hopeless pilgrimage of pain must be cut short once 

and for all — by escape. 

But a successful escape from the Solovky is a 
miracle, a fabulous piece of good fortune, granted 
to a few out of scores of thousands. 

During the time that I spent in the Solovky I 
heard of only one case in which a prisoner had 
escaped from the Solovky — and he did not escape 
abroad, but into the interior of Russia. He was a 
medical student named Nikolaeff — a " K.R." He 
succeeded by some means or other in getting 
himself employed as a clerk in the camp com- 
mandant's office, and winning the confidence of the 
Tchekists by pretended hatred of " K.R.'s." He 
came to manage the whole business of the camp, 
had all the forms and papers at his disposal, and 
occasionally even went to Kem — without a guard 1 
on business connected with the commandant's 
office. He forged all the necessary documents for 

An Island Hell 

himself — in an assumed name : a railway pass, 
even a certificate of membership of the Com- 
munist Party. Then he went to Kem, allegedly on 
business — and never came back. Many weeks 
later we got a letter saying that Nikolaeff was in 
Moscow, sent us his kind remembrances, and 
wished us a speedy departure southward. 

Every other attempt to escape had invariably 
ended in the fugitives being captured and put to 
a torturing death. It was so with the Finlander 
who tried to escape in March, 1925, and with 
Captain Skhyrtladze's party. Six " K.R.'s," 
headed by Captain Skhyrtladze, escaped from the 
Solovetsky Monastery in a boat which they had got 
hold of after killing a sentry. For five days they 
were tossed about in a rough sea, trying to make 
the shore near Kem. They had no food, their 
strength gave out, and several times the idea of 
committing suicide by upsetting the boat presented 
itself to them. At last one of the unhappy 
Columbuses cried "Land!" They came to the 
shore and landed at night. They were so weak 

The Only Way Out 187 

and exhausted that, having lit a fire in the woods, 
they forgot everything else and fell down beside 
it half dead. A patrol from the Solovky found 
them there. The Tchekists flung bombs at the 
fire. Four of the fugitives were killed on the 
spot; the two others, one of whom was Captain 
Skhyrtladze, were recaptured. Skhyrtladze had 
one hand blown off and both legs broken. They 
were taken to hospital, given some treatment, and 
then, after cruel tortures, were shot. 

Only a miracle, a direct act of God, could make 
the impossible possible. But we — I and my four 
comrades — believed in miracles, and prayed to 
God for one. And He led us for thirty-five days 
through the marshes of Karelia and the forests of 
the border region, and on the thirty-sixth day 
brought us to Kuusamo, in Finland. 



Cautious Reconnaissance Work — Bezsonoff's Arrival — 

Our Party Made Up — Elaborate Contrivance 
Necessary — A Critical Moment. 

The thought of escape was always in my mind, 
even in the Caucasus, in the prisons of the 
Extraordinary Commissions of Batoum, Tiflis, 
Vladikavkaz and Grozny. On my arrival in the 
Solovky, I first began to sound the possibilities in 
this direction. In the concentration camps of the 
north, inquiries of this kind have to be made with 
extreme caution; the greatest delicacy must be 
employed in asking questions and reconnoitring 
the ground. You cannot tell which of the prisoners 
are secret agents of the Gpu and which are people 
who feel as you yourself do. There have been 

i 1 88 

Laying our Plans 189 

many cases in which educated prisoners, at first 
sight most charming fellows, have betrayed their 

In the winter of 1924-25 I became intimate 
with the medical student Nikolaeff. He told me 
that he was making preparations to escape. We 
did not agree, however, as to what should be done 
in the next stage. Nikolaeff insisted that we 
should escape into the interior of Russia, with 
correct papers, which he promised to forge. As 
described in the last chapter, he did this success- 
fully on his own behalf. I, on the contrary, was 
for escaping abroad, for two reasons, viz. : 
(1) even if we succeeded in escaping, the Tchekists 
would probably find us very soon if we stayed in 
Russia; (2) my destination, the Caucasus, was too 
distant from the Solovky for me to be sure of 
getting there. So, while Nikolaeff succeeded in 
making his escape to Moscow via Kem and Petro- 
grad, I stayed in the Solovky to wait for a more 
favourable opportunity. 

One Saturday in February, 1925, a new convoy 


An Island Hell 

of " K.R.'s " arrived in the Solovky. Among the 
prisoners was a former captain in the Life Guards 
Dragoon Regiment named Bezsonoff. He had 
not been two days in the camp before he asked 

me : 


What do you think about escaping ? I mean 

to clear off from here pretty soon." 

As I had every reason to believe that I was 
dealing with a Gpu spy, I replied : 

" I don't mean to try to escape. Pm all right 


But soon I got to know Bezsonoff better. He 
had been transported to Tobolsk for "counter- 
revolution " and repeated attempts to escape from 
captivity. He managed to escape from Tobolsk 
and got to Petrograd, where he lived in freedom 
for six months. Then he again fell into the hands 
of the Gpu, which sentenced him to be shot, but 
his sentence was commuted to five years in the 
Solovky, to be followed by a period of exile in 
the Narym region. In the camp he bore himself 
with an independent air, openly abused the 

Laying our Plans 19 1 

Tchekists, and did not obey the orders of the 

We decided to escape into Finland. Each of us 
sought for companions in the adventure among 
our fellow-prisoners. Bezsonoff came to an 
understanding with two Poles named Malbrodsky 
and Sazonoff. Malbrodsky was a particularly 
valuable comrade because he had a compass. 
While in the Tcheka prison at Minsk, he had 
hidden his compass in a cake of soap, and had 
brought it, thus concealed, to the Solovky. Of 
course we had no maps of any kind. Our march- 
ing orders were simply — westward! Here the 
compass would play a decisive part. 

Only prisoners engaged in outside labour had 
a chance of flight. Of late I had had the duty of 
making out the lists of prisoners detailed for 
various kinds of work outside the camp. I myself, 
however, was not allowed by the Tchekists to go 
outside the wire fence, as they had suspected me 
for a long time past of intending to make a bolt. 
I was faced with the difficult task of making out a 


An Island Hell 

list of workers consisting only of men useful to 
us, and getting my own name on to the list in 

As a rule, parties from five to twelve strong are 
detailed for work outside the camp. Too large a 
party was no use to us. It was indispensable that 
a party of five should be made up consisting of the 
four already mentioned — Bezsonoff, Malbrodsky, 
Sazonoff and myself — and a reliable "K.R." I 
managed to add a Kuban Cossack to the list. He 
was not warned in advance. 

We had still one obstacle to overcome. Each 
party was, as a rule, composed of prisoners 
belonging to the same labour company. Bezsonoff 
belonged to the 5th company, but Sazonoff, for 
example, to the 7th. Although I was continually 
in danger of ruining the whole laboriously con- 
trived scheme, I nevertheless managed to get all 
our men into one party. 

Early in the morning of May 18th, 1925, two 
parties, among others, were taken to work outside 
the camp. A party from the 6th company was 

Laying our Plans 193 

taken to cut wood on the shore near Kem, and 
another — ours — to clean out the Red soldiers' 
barracks, on Popoff Island itself. This threatened 
to ruin the whole plan — it was impossible to get 
away from Popoff Island. 

All this time a Tchekist named Myasnikoff had 
been keeping a particularly watchful eye on me. 
He sometimes said he had been a hussar, sometimes 
a sailor, sometimes a colleague of Dzerzhinsky ; 
in the camp he was deputy-commander of a labour 
regiment. I had, under his eyes, to invent some 
reason for sending our party to the woods, and not 
the other. After a minute's thought, I went up to 
the party from the 6th company and said : 

" You fellows '11 be simply frozen in the woods 
with such rags on, and only bast shoes. You'd 
better go to the barracks." 

Our men had specially mended their clothes and 
boots for the occasion. 

Luckily for us, just at this moment Myasnikoff 
was called away for some reason or other. I led 
our party up to the guards, and said : 

i 9 4 

An Island Hell 

"Now, comrades, take us off to work in the 

Never has my heart beaten as it did in that 
minute. They gave us an escort of two Red 
soldiers, and took us off to work. 



An Initial Success — Covering our Tracks — Bezsonoff 

as Dictator — Traces of our Pursuers — A Trap. 

We cut wood till 8 a.m. At that hour a goods 
train came from Popoff Island to Kern; it would 
have been dangerous to try to escape before then. 
When the train had disappeared, Bezsonoff gave 
the signal arranged long before — he turned up his 
collar. We flung ourselves on the soldiers from 
behind. We succeeded in disarming one of them 
immediately. The other pushed away Malbrodsky 
and Sazonoff, whose business it was to disarm him, 
and began to yell. Luckily we were nearly three 
miles from the camp. I gave the Red soldier a 
blow in the side, and he fell. 

I was for shooting the two soldiers; they were 
both Communists and belonged to the Gpu troops. 
But Bezsonoff persuaded me not to do so, arguing 



An Island Hell 

that an act of vengeance at such a moment was 
useless, and that no one would gain anything by it. 

At that moment the Kuban Cossack, who had 
flung himself on the ground in surprise, stretched 
out his hands to us, and cried : 

" Little brothers, don't kill me!" 

We calmed him. 

" What are you making all this noise about, you 
fool ? Nobody's going to kill you. The freedom 
you had in the Solovky Kalinin gave you, we give 
you the freedom you have now. Do as you like. 
If you go back to the camp you'll be shot. If you 
come with us, there's a risk there too. Or, if you 
like, go south on your own, to the Kuban. We 
can do without you. Do as you like." 

The Cossack came with us. His name, by the 
way, was Pribludin. 

We had decided long before to cover our tracks 
in every possible way. Our real objective being 
the frontier between Russia and Finland, which lay 
to westward, we went due north for twenty miles 
along the railway embankment, taking the two Red 

Our Flight: The First Stage 197 

soldiers with us. After covering nine miles, we 
sent one of the soldiers off in a westerly direction, 
and the second when we had gone eleven miles, 
first taking off their boots. We reckoned that 
even if they found the way back they would not 
reach the camp before the following morning. 

We came to a railwayman's hut. We asked the 
pointsman to sell us bread (we had six tchervontsy, 
which we had saved while we were preparing to 
escape), but the man, apparently a Communist, 

refused. We had to take the food by force. We 
loaded up Pribludin, Sazonoff and Malbrodsky 

with the provisions and went on for three miles 
in a northerly direction, then turned east, then 
south, and came back almost to the same place from 
which we had started northward two days before. 
We crossed the railway embankment and steered 
due west. 

During these first days we walked without a 
break, either by day or by, night. The " rests " 
mentioned in BezsonofPs diary, which he kept on 
the inside of the cover of his Bible, were halts of a 


An Island Hell 

few minutes only for food. Our weariness soon 
began to make itself felt. There were no roads; our 
route lay over damp ground, covered with thick 
undergrowth, and endless marshes. Bezsonoff, 
who had constituted himself an inexorable dictator 
to the rest of us, brandished a rifle under the nose 
of anyone who stopped even for a minute, and 
threatened to kill him on the spot. At the 
time we thought him cruel, but I know now 
that the merciless insistence of our "dictator" 
contributed in a high degree to the success of our 

,We changed direction sharply once again and 

marched southward, towards the river Kem. A 
snowstorm overtook us. The violence of the 
tempest blew us off our legs. My boots got burnt 
through at a fire; luckily I had an old pair of 
goloshes with me, and put them on, winding strips 
of rag round my legs. It is possible that the fearful 
blizzard, which caused us such hardships, benefited 
us at the same time, for the snow covered our 

Our Flight: The First Stage 


Our bread was all finished 

We had thirty bits 

of sugar left. We had introduced a "starvation 
ration," and were sharing out every crumb, when 
we came to the hamlet Poddiujnoe, 


(marked with dots)* 




Solovetsky Island (in reality 
much farther from the main- 


Popoff Island. 

6. River Kem. 



5. Poddiujnoe. 

River Shomba. 

Wooden road. 
Lake Toro. 
Lake Muojarvi. 
Main road from 

Kuusamo to 


Near the hamlet we found the footmarks of 
Tchekists. As Bezsonoff had on a pair of Govern- 
ment boots, taken from one of the Red soldiers, we 
were able to compare the tracks and ascertain that 
the footmarks were those of soldiers belonging to 
the Gpu troops. We also found the footmarks of 
police dogs. So we knew that We were being 
hunted with dogs. 

We decided to go on westward along the bank 
of the river Kem, without making any detour. 
My feet were so badly frost-bitten that the pain 
sometimes brought tears into my eyes, but there 
was nothing for it but to go on and on. About 
ten miles from Poddiujnoe we met two Karelians. 
On seeing us they were filled with horror at our 
convict-like appearance, and at our situation. They 
told us that all Karelia had been informed by 
telephone that five men had escaped from the 
Solovky, and ten poods of flour promised for each 
fugitive handed over. They had seen ten 
Tchekists with dogs. Moreover, a motor launch 

Our Flight: The First Stage 201 

from Kem, with six men on board, was patrolling 
the river. 

We asked the Karelians for bread and tobacco. 
They gave us two loaves and a packet of makhorka 
(coarse tobacco), for which we paid three roubles 
they had no change. They advised us to make for 
a dairy farm twenty miles from Poddiujnoe. We 
found, in due course, that a regular trap had been 
laid for us at this dairy farm. But I do not think 
the two Karelians sent us into it intentionally. 

As a rule, when we came near a human habita- 
tion, we lay on the ground for two hours, watching 
to see who went into and came out of the house. 
We did so this time, and saw nothing suspicious. 
Sazonoff, Malbrodsky and Pribludin remained 
behind, while Bezsonoff and I went forward. The 
house stood apart from the farm buildings. 
Bezsonoff opened the door. In the very act of 
entering he gave a wild yell of " Red soldiers ! " 
On opening the door, he saw right in front 
of him three rifles aimed at him. Being an 
exceptionally cool-headed man, he did not lose his 


An Island Hell 

head, but instantly slammed the door to and fired 
through it. 

I leapt to the door. The Red soldiers kept quite 
still. It would have been stupid to fight them. 
We decided to retreat to the woods. But we had 
to pass the window of the house, and the Tchekists 
would have shot us down from the window like 
partridges. Bezsonoff took up a position close to 
the stables, in a place from which he could fire at 
the window at any moment if one of the soldiers 
showed himself at it; I stood on the other side, 
also holding my rifle at the ready. 

Then, abandoning our posts, we gave ourselves 
the order, "Quick — bolt!" and were about to 
make for the woods when a motor launch, with six 
soldiers on board, came up to the bank from the 
direction of the mouth of the Shomba, a tributary 
of the Kem. The Red soldiers in the house leapt 
out of the windows on the opposite side, facing 
the river. I did not see any use in firing. Bezsonoff, 
however, fired at the launch. The Tchekists leapt 
ashore and flunp themselves into the woods. 

Our Flight: The First Stage 203 

.Weeping and wailing arose from another boat, 
loaded with women and children, the families of 
Karelian fishermen. We retired hastily into the 




Sazonof as Raft-builder — A Bitter Disappointment — 

A Hay-maker's Larder — We Pillage a Communist's 
Farm — A Narrow Shave — Sazonof s Swimming 
A chievement. 

We recommenced our exhausting journey through 
the marshes, covered with thick scrub. We had 
no food. Despair took the place of hope in our 
hearts. Time after time we fell down from 
exhaustion and weariness. My frost-bitten feet 
caused me fearful torment. 

We continued to follow the river Kem almost 
due south, then turned west. Thus, falling and 
getting up^ and falling into the water again, we 
covered twenty-five miles. We came to a big lake, 
with fishermen's huts on the shore. The men were 
not at home. We took a quantity of food and left 
a tchervonets on a stone with a note which ran : 

•V.-. ' ao4 ■ 

A Terrible March 


" We are sorry, but necessity compels us to steal. 
We leave you a tchervonets." 

For a long time we did not know how to get 
across the lake. We tried to go round, and walked 
ten miles — still we were confronted by water. 
Then Sazonoff, who had grown up in the neigh- 
bourhood of water, made some odd little rafts, 
fastening planks together with everything we 
had — rifle slings, belts, shirts — and brought us 
over to the other side. This voyage across the lake, 
I remember, used up what little energy we still 
had. Indeed, when I now recall all that we went 
through in those dreadful days, I cannot under- 
stand how we endured such a strain, both physical 
and mental, and how it was that we did not fall 
down dead somewhere in the Karelian mosses. But 
evidently God thought fit to save us, to bring us 
out of the dense, marshy jungle, that we might 
bear witness to the whole world of the place of 
torment into which a loathsome government has 
turned the once holy Solovetsky Monastery. 

After crossing the lake, we decided to march due 

2o6 An Island Hell 

west. More marshes in endless succession, no 
paths, not a scrap of bread. We usually endured 
the pangs of hunger for three days, and on the 
fourth day went in search of bread, at the risk of 
falling into a trap. While in search of provisions, 
we came upon a wooden road through the marshes, 
evidently laid down by the British. We could 
see no tracks on it. We held a council of war, and 
decided to turn off northward in the hope of 
coming to a habitation. We covered twenty miles : 

not a soul. 

Then we came to another lake, and there, on the 
other side, was a large village. We could hear 
voices and the barking of dogs. ,We dragged 
ourselves to the bank. Bezsonoff and Sazonoff 
stood by the water's edge for a long time, and 

shouted : 

"Hallo! Hallo!" 

At last we made ourselves heard. A boat came 
over, rowed by a Karelian. 

" Can we get any bread ? We'll pay for it." 
" Yes, you can get bread, you can get anything 

A Terrible March 207 

you like," the honest fisherman replied. "But 
there are Tchekists from the Solovky in the 
village, searching for you." 

Once more we had to plunge into the depths of 
the scrub. It rained unceasingly, the days were 
raw and windy. For four more days we had 
nothing to eat. We had only our tobacco. 

At last we came to a wooden footpath raised 
above the water. We went along it and came to 
a tiny hut in the middle of the marshes. We 
examined the little place carefully, but could find 
nothing eatable. While the rest of us were making 
a fire of brushwood in the rain, Bezsonoff continued 
to prospect in the neighbourhood of the hut, and 
suddenly returned from his reconnaissance with 
five loaves of black bread in his hands. He ate 
greedily as he walked. I thought at first it was a 
hallucination caused by hunger, but no, it was real 
bread, and plenty of it! 

It was evidently a hut belonging to Karelian 
hay-makers. They bring their stores of food to 
their huts in winter, because in summer it is 

2o8 An Island Hell 

impossible to get to them; the marshes are turned 
into an inland sea. Not far from our hut 
Bezsonoff found a wooden shelter like a gigantic 
mushroom, with an opening in the middle, and 
under it exactly a hundred huge loaves, three bags 
of groats and a bag of salt. Our joy knew no 
bounds. We decided to have a good rest. 
Happily, the possibility of a Tchekist ambush in the 
midst of the marshes — the passage of which was 
quite impracticable except by a footpath such as we 
had found — could be almost entirely dismissed. 
We made out of that bread (in fancy) tea, cooked 
meat and various kinds of soup ! We lived in the 
hut until each of us had five cakes of bread left. 

Then — westward once again! Water, water, 
water without end. We marched for nearly a 
week on the five cakes per man. We found a path, 
which led us to a lonely dairy farm. We hid, kept 
our ears open, and finally sent Sazonoff on to get 
food. When he came back with bread and butter 
we noticed that a peasant woman ran out of the 
cottage and hurried to a boat which lay by the 

A Terrible March 


bank. We had evidently come to a Communist's 
house, and the woman had gone to fetch Red 
soldiers. We fired a few shots after her; she took 
fright and went back to the house. 

We pillaged those Communists without mercy. 
We took a tub of butter, a lot of white bread, and 
all the fish there was in the house. We had now so 
much food that even BezsonofF and I, who usually 
walked at the head of the party in " light marching 
order," rifle in hand, had each of us to shoulder a 

We were by this time simply iri rags. The 
thorny bushes had torn our clothes to shreds; our 
boots had come unstitched. With tangled beards, 
incredibly filthy faces, holes at knees and elbows, 
we looked like cannibals, or escaped convicts — 
which, for that matter, was just what we were. 

Going along a narrow path through the woods, 
we came upon tracks of Red soldiers' boots and the 
stump of a makhorka cigarette. As we had no 
tobacco left by then, we eagerly seized the stump, 
and each of us had two puffs at it. Sazonoff and 

2io An Island Hell 

Malbrodsky insisted that we should leave the 
dangerous path. We came to a river. [We looked 
for a ford for over three hours, but could not 
find one, and had to go back to the path we had 

After we had walked for a long time we came to 
a place where the marks of many feet were plainly 
visible. We knew from this that we were quite 
close to the frontier; but we could not say even 
approximately where the frontier was. We had no 
map, and none of us knew how many miles we had 
to go to reach Finland. The arrow of the compass 
showed us where west lay, and that was all. 

We followed the tracks cautiously. We had 
just gone round a slight hillock, when from behind 
a big rock there came a hail of bullets. I was so 
taken by surprise that I stopped dead. Fifty or 
sixty rounds were fired at us point blank. We saw 
the flashes from the rock. But not one of us was 
touched. Not till then did we perceive that the 
ambush was laid on both sides of the path. The 
woods, particularly dense at that spot, saved us. 

A Terrible March 211 

t Wc scattered among the undergrowth. The firing 
went on for a long time. It may have been the 
Soviet frontier patrol we had encountered. 

Moving swiftly westward, we came to a halt 
again at the river. We could still find no ford. 
We tried to find a way round ; we went a long way 
and came back again. We learnt a few days later 
that this stream was the frontier between Russia 
and Finland. It is considered impassable, and is, 
therefore, guarded by neither Finlanders nor 

But cross the river we must; it blocked our route 
westward. Sazonoff swam to the opposite bank. 
Malbrodsky plunged into the water and began to 
drown. The strong current swept him down- 
stream; I dragged him out with difficulty. I 
myself was carried for several yards downstream; 
I began to suffocate, but in the nick of time I stuck 
the muzzle of my rifle into the river bottom and 
supported myself on it. We did not know what 
to do. We had no strength at all. We jumped 
recklessly into the water several times, and every 


An Island Hell 

time returned to the bank completely exhausted. 
Then Sazonoff gave us another exhibition of his 
skill in mastering any current; he carried each of us 
in turn over to the opposite bank on his back! 

s was at three o'clock on the morning of 


June 15 th 



Linguistic Difficulties— Joyful Certainty — Bezsonotf's 

Diary — Finnish Peasant's Claim for Damages — 
A Friend in Need — Free at Last. 

We had not a dry thread on us. Our cartridges 
were soaked. Our fingers shook with cold, we 
could not speak to one another. To crown all, our 
small supply of bread had run out. Luckily, a 
couple of days later we came upon a deer in the 
woods, and Bezsonoff, who had contrived, unlike 
the rest of us, to keep his ammunition dry, shot it. 
In our joy we ate half of it at once without bread. 
We made soup out of a part of it, and took the 
cooked meat that was left over along with us. The 
result of this feast was that we all fell ill with an 
acute gastric disorder, and for several days were 
so weak that we could hardly walk. 

After a long tramp we came, two days a f ter we 


had crossed the river, to a cottage. We went in 
and asked the people to sell us bread and other 
food. They could not speak or understand a word 
of Russian. Supposing ourselves to be already in 
Finland,* we repeatedly asked : 

"Where are we? What is this? Finland? 
Russians ? " 

We had recourse to mimicry, to talking on our 
fingers. It was quite useless. (On arriving in 
Finland, by the way, we discovered that the 
Finnish name for the country is Suomi.) 

We took some food of various kinds, and 
offered them a tchervonets. They would not take 
it. We gave them all our small change, ninety 

silver kopeks ; they took the silver. We went off, 
followed by unfriendly looks. 

Several more days passed, full of uncertainty. 
Had we crossed the frontier or not ? Were we in 
Finland or still in the U.S.S.R. ? If we assumed 
the former to be the case, did we not risk making 

* Language was not a certain guide, as the peasants on both sides of the 
frontier are Finnish-speaking. 


our escape a failure after all the difficulties we had 
overcome, and falling into the hands of the 
Tchekists again ? 

On June 23rd we came to a big river. There 
were a crowd of people on the opposite bank; 
evidently wood-floating was in preparation. We 
had noticed during the past week a certain change 
in our surroundings, signs of order and culture; 
and we had found a cigarette box with an inscrip- 
tion that was not in Russian. The workmen on 
the river bank were much better clothed than 
Russian workmen are. After long hesitation and 
uneasiness we decided that the frontier lay behind 
us. We called for a boat to be sent from the other 
side. The workmen who came across explained 
to us, certainly not without difficulty, that the 
U.S.S.R. lay far in our rear. 

For a moment or two we could not utter a word 
for mingled joy and weariness; all our strength 
seemed suddenly to leave us. Bezsonoff chronicled 
that unforgettable moment in his diary in one 
significant word : " Finland." 


An Island Hell 

Our " dictator w kept this diary on the inside of 
the cover, the back of the table of contents, and 
the last (440th) page of the "New Testament 

of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (Synod edition of 
1 9 1 6). He made short pencil notes daily. These 
disconnected entries, which had in truth been 
through fire and water, give the clearest possible 
picture of all the vicissitudes of our flight. It was 

thanks to them that we did not lose count of the 

I give some typical extracts from BezsonofPs 

May 1 8th, 1925. — Disarmed escort and escaped. .... 
„ 2 1st. — Bivouac in woods. Stayed in hut on 

account of snowstorm 

„ 24th. — Snow continued. Stopped in evening 

26th. — Snow thawing. At 2 p.m. started for 

river Kem, at 7 p.m. came to hamlet 
Poddiujnoe. 11 p.m., met two peasants. 
Got some bread. Night. Going along 
river Kem. In good spirits. At 
Poddiujnoe ambushes of Red soldiers, who 
went off in search of us. 

Freedom 217 

May 27th. — Marched all night and day without rest. 

Food quite finished. At 7 p.m. came to 
dairy farm 22 miles from Poddiujnoe. 
Going into farm fell into ambush of Red 
soldiers. After firing Red soldiers cleared 
off in boat. We hurried along Kem, 
getting food from fishermen. Not much 
food. Have to go hungry. Horribly 
tired. At 2 a.m. left bank of Kem and 
halted for rest at 6 a.m. 
„ 28th. — Rested all day. Little to eat. All have 

legs badly swollen 

„ 29th. — Night march through " impassable " 

marshes. Day resting. Pushed on in 
evening. Rest. Cloudberries, geese, hare. 
Midnight. Malbrodsky unable to march 


from exhaustion, rested. . . . 

„ 30th. — About 11 p.m. successfully crossed r. 

Shomba. Relief and joy great. God be 

praised. Marched all night 

June 1st. — In the morning unexpectedly came to 

fishermen's hut; they were out fishing. 
Took bread from them, leaving 3 roub. 
Great help. Going on. Lost our way 
among lakes. Made raft. Ferried over. 



Creator. Nearly morning. All 6lept. 
God be praised. Help us in the future 
also, O God, and save us from our enemies. 
And I believe He will help us. 

June 6th. — Rest. The little hut At the moment I 

am morally and physically a happy man. 

Nature, sky, beauty. . . . God has wrought 
a miracle. 

„ 8th. — Weather changed. Warm. Water falling. 

Eat every 2 hours and thank God. Almost 
night. Fire. I cannot sleep. I keep watch. 
Situation good. Nothing of note. We 
reckon we have covered 18 miles of 

" impassable " marshes .... 

nth. — Marched all night. In the morning stopped 

for " short halt " to drink hot water. 
Went on. Rested at 6 p.m. Little hut 
No. 2. Moved on in evening. So much 
the nearer our goal. I reckon we are 
thirteen miles from frontier. I have two 
pieces of bread left, Malbrodsky none at all. 

1 2th. — Early this morning drank hot water in little 

shed by lake. Paths, lake, rain. Halt in 
broken-down hut. Nervy. No food. 

220 An Island Hell 

Lord help us! Went on in evening. 
Marching all night. Rain. Dew. Cold. 

June 13th. — Lake. Red soldiers. Line of patrols? Go 

round. Rest without fire. Nearly 6 miles 
west and no sign of frontier. According to 
my reckoning we crossed the frontier at 
12 p.m. Marched all night. Cold. Lit 
fire and halted till morning. No food at 

„ 14th. — River. Retreat. Path. Ambushes. Shots 

point blank. God saved us. Praise Him. 

Flight. Back to river. Ghastly crossing. 
„ 15th. — Rest after crossing. Spent day and night 

drying ourselves. Shared out food. Quarrel. 

Peace made. . . . 

„ 17th. — Killed deer by lucky shot. . . . Ate nearly 


„ 1 8th. — Moved off in morning. Halted for rest at 

12 p.m. Stopped all day. 

„ 19th. — At 7 p.m. crossed a clearing. Rested. 

Clearing leads nowhere. Raid on dairy 

farm. Rest " with cows 

2 1st. — Moved off in morning. Exhaustion. 

Uncertainty. Reluctance to march. 

Freedom 221 

_ m , -a - 1 i — p-j- ■ _ ■ * 

Clearing. Came to an end. Came out on 
clearing. Telephone line. River. Wood- 
floating. Finland ! 

Bezsonoff evidently did not note all the days in 
his diary, for in reality our flight came to an end 
on June 23rd, 1925. 

The Finlanders received us very kindly, gave us 
food in abundance and sent us to Uleaborg. The 
Chief of Police of Uleaborg moved us all to tears 
by his attentions; he not only brought a quantity 
of food to the prison for us, and supplied us with 
money, but he took me himself to a doctor to have 
my frost-bitten feet bound up. I, in outward 
appearance a complete bandit, dirty and in rags, 
felt strange in his smart carriage, and could read 
on the faces of the people we met the dubious 
query : " Who on earth is that convict in the Chief 
of Police's trap ? " 

We were, however, not liberated immediately. 
It appeared that the owner of the dairy farm from 
which we had taken food a few days before, paying 
for it with only about a rouble in silver (as the 

222 Island Hell 

people would not take our Soviet paper money), 
had made a complaint against us, demanding 
compensation to the amount of 1,000 marks. The 

newspapers, privately informed of the occurrence, 
wrote that " fiv,e Bolshevist bandits had crossed the 
frontier and made an armed raid on a Finnish dairy 
farm." While this affair was being settled, we 
had to spend several weeks in prison, first at 
Uleaborg and then at Helsingfors. But even 
prison seemed paradise to us after the Solovky and 
the Karelian jungles ! 

When we arrived at Helsingfors, the president 
of the special committee for Russian affairs in 
Finland, A. N. Fenoult, came to see us in prison. 
Thanks to his extraordinary energy, and the infinite 
trouble he took on our behalf, we were very soon 
set at liberty, and were able to get ourselves decent 
clothes and assume once more a human aspect. It 
was significant that Malbrodsky (the other Pole, 
Sazonoff, being a native of the former Government 
of Vilna, was not recognised as being a Polish 
subject), who had immediately appealed to the 



Polish Consul, did not leave prison until later than 
we, who had no official diplomatic protection. 

I should like to conclude my simple narrative by 
expressing our heartfelt gratitude to all, both 
Finlanders and Russians, from whom, on our 
arrival in Finland, we received so much kindness 
and sympathy. After the ferocity shown by man 
towards man in the concentration camps, after the 
devastating egoism, the hardness, the inhuman 
callousness, with which the Bolsheviks have 
inoculated the unhappy Russian people, the 
reception we met with in Finland touched us to the 
bottom of our hearts. 

Made and Printed in Gteat Btiiain by C. JxnUng & Co. Ltd., 

I k erfocl end al Ixundtm and Freseoi.